Back Roads of Nayarit: Remembering Hurricane Kenna

This past Saturday, October 25, marked the 12th Anniversary of Hurricane Kenna crashing into Mexico’s Pacific coast. Back in 2002, the storm hit land near the fishing and tourist town of San Blas, just 2 hours north of Jaltemba Bay. Sustained winds, which reached 160mph, dropped to 140mph before the storm hit the coast destroying houses and cutting roads in fishing towns while burying hotel swimming pools throughout the entire area. The following article was a first hand account written by Bob Howell…

(top photo) Playa Los Cocos was almost recovered from the tropical storm of 1986, but now it has suffered a lot of damage again. Kenna’s aftermath.

24 Oct – I happened to be talking to a neighbor and he mentioned that a hurricane was headed in our direction. This really didn’t sink home because a couple of times every year, one or the other hits Baja California or somewhere. No one in my area can remember one hitting here. Here are the communities of Rincón de Guayabitos, La Peñita de Jaltemba and Los Ayala, Nayarit, México, located about an hours drive North of Puerto Vallarta.

Later, while browsing the internet I noticed quite of bit of traffic talk about this one which was called Kenna. Then I noticed a posting telling how to get the weather satellite. I never pay much attention to the weather, the news or read a newspaper, but for curiosity I check it out. Sure enough, a hurricane is heading in our direction. It even shows the approximate time it will hit. Tomorrow afternoon at 5 P.M.

I really don’t get too excited. When I was in the Marines I encountered several in the Marianas, Philippines, Southeast Asia and one at sea (although this one did shake me up). I do know what to do. Make sure we have food, water, extra batteries for the flashlights, fuel up the vehicles, and crank up the generator, tape the windows, etc.

I participate in a forum called Jaltemba Bay Folk, it is a community advisory as well as a chat posting on the internet. This was starting to heat up. A number of seasonal folk were concerned about their places and others of us full timers began chatting about the future.

I noticed the highway full of cars, most coming from Puerto Vallarta and heading inland. Escapees. The gas station was lined up. I was thankful I had filled earlier. The streets were emptying.

I started getting regular reports of the hurricanes progress and reporting them. Then came the police through the neighborhood with loud speakers. “Everybody out” they said. Vicky, my friend, and I decided to stay. Her son and friends came by to get us and get out. Only after promising to follow shortly did they continue on their way.

NOAA Hurrican Kenna Graphic
NOAA Hurricane Kenna 2

The 10 O’clock report said it was accelerating in speed and power. Later it was upgraded to a force 5 – the strongest. I continue my reports on the internet. At 2 a.m. it is obvious that we are in for it. It seems as though it will hit us direct. We make a decision. Get some sleep and first thing in the morning we will head for Vicky’s house in Xalisco. Near Tepic.

I get up at 5 a.m. and check again. It now is going to hit us at mid day.

o.k. a little more sleep. Up early, do a few last minute chores and decide we will go into the village, get some more tape for the windows, get more money from the ATM, return, do some windows and be on our way.

We are on the way back from La Peñita and we notice the wind picking up.

We decide to check out some Canadian friends. By the time we get to their place it is really windy. Trees are starting to fall. We decide to change our plans. It will be too dangerous to travel with all the falling trees. My house is near the ocean and might get flooded. Our friends will come with us, we will stop at our place, pickup some food and the dog and go to Vicky’s house on the hillside.

After doing the necessary at my place, we start for Vicky’s. Our friends, Bobby and Bryan are following. Now the wind is blowing hard, trees are falling all around. One large tree blocks our path. We can’t get around. But wait. Maybe I can just squeeze by near the curb. Branches and limbs are flying. Electric lines are swaying. Are they hot? We manage to get by the tree. We speed down the avenida, hoping we will be ahead of any falling trees or objects. Finally we reach the highway. Very little traffic.  The few that we see are fleeing for their lives. On to La Peñita, the trees are falling over the bridge, we race through. On down the highway to Vicky’s street, almost to her house. Noooo! A tree has fallen and blocked the road. Reverse, turn around. “Faster,” Vicky says, off down a few blocks. We will try the back way. Up the hill. Trees falling and more downed electric wires. Some almost hitting the car and we run over many more. End of pavement, we will follow the dirt road to the back of her place. The wind is reaching very high speeds. Up the dirt road. There are several cars and pickups ahead. A tree has fallen and blocked the road. What to do. Try and run for it to Vicky’s or ? Some men in the first vehicle are attacking the tree with a machete. Soon we all pass. We reach a point above Vicky’s. Out of the car. Grab armloads of food and clothing. Run for the house. We climb through many downed trees. The rain is coming down in sheets. We reach the house and enter. Almost exhausted.

We find we have left many important things in the vehicles. Out we go. It is hard too walk against the wind. I can hardly see. We manage to get to the car. Out with the dog. Vicky and I grab a heavy box with food and things. The rain is driving. Now my eyes are full of water. Vicky pulls the chest and I push. It slides along the mud. I feel that I am standing under a waterfall and the water and wind are trying to push me down. Through the downed trees pulling and pushing, the wind howling and the noise of things breaking and flying. Finally we are inside. We have food, water, booze and some almost dry clothes. We are safe for the moment.

After the storm, little by little people start emerging. Finally, anxiety over my house overcomes me and I make my way back to the car, make many detours, drive around many fallen trees and wires and arrive at my place. I just knew every window would have been broken, I had visions of waves battering down the walls and, worst of all, the possible loss of my supply of tequila.

Stepping through the gate I note all the windows intact, the walls are still there, and upon entering I note the absence of water on the floor. Seeing the telephone nearby, I pick it up and put it to my ear. I don’t know why because with the dozens of telephone lines that are down in the area how can it work – but it does!

There is no electric, so I start up the generator and in minutes I am connected to Jaltemba Bay Folk. WE SURVIVED I say. Sure wouldn’t want to make a weekly habit of this, but it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. For us.

10-Damage was heavy to the old counting house
Much of the old counting house was rebuilt in recent years, but much of that has now been destroyed by the hurricane.

15-This was a home on the beach
I was a guest in this home a few years ago. Not much left now.

by Bob Howell
Originally published October 24, 2002 on Jaltemba Bay Folk

Editor’s Note: “Back Roads of Nayarit” is a series of essays written by Bob Howell, a long-time resident of Jaltemba Bay. The series details his day trips and adventures between 2001-2007. We are sharing these stories in an effort to preserve Bob’s memory – and to help Bob’s partner and traveling companion, Vicky Flores Ramirez, who still lives in La Peñita and quietly carries on the work that she and Bob so loved. Sometimes her bodega is packed full of donated clothing, school supplies, toys and medicine; sometimes it is bare. If you enjoy reading these articles, please consider making a donation so the McKibben Foundation (Nurse Vicky’s Dispensary) can continue helping schools, seniors and needy families in the Jaltemba Bay area. And if you have copies of any of Bob’s old stories or photos, please contact us.

If you haven’t already done so, read Tom Plattenberger’s personal dedication entitled “In Memory of Bob Howell,” which serves as an introduction to this series.

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