Saturday, June 23, 2018
Opinion

The other side of Hurricane Patricia

I live part time in what the media called the "sparsely populated stretch" where Hurricane Patricia hit Mexico. But when the storm barreled through, I wasn't there — I was in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, at a storytelling festival. I was learning about the power of story.

The predominant story being told about Hurricane Patricia is as powerful as the storm was. We watched in horror and fascination as its power grew; we learned that the last time a storm of this magnitude had struck land almost 7,000 people died.

We gasped with relief at President Enrique Pena Nieto's midnight announcement that there had been no deaths and no major damage. The tourist destinations had been spared. In Puerto Vallarta, tourists and residents celebrated their escape with morning coffee and an ordinary sunny day. From a certain vantage point, Patricia looked almost beautiful.

But up and down the coast where the hurricane made landfall, there is another story. The "sparsely populated stretch" the media refer to is made up of real villages that have names: Punta Perula, San Mateo, Morelos, Cuitzmala, and more. On the ground, there are people with names: Maricela, the retired teacher and owner of a taqueria on the town square; YaYa and Herme, who own the tiny store where people buy their tortillas and grocery items; Rosa, who cuts hair in a salon smaller than an American bathroom.

On this ground, there is more than "minimal damage." Houses that provided shelter are gone, roofs blown away, fishing boats destroyed. There is little food and mudslides block roads. Everywhere there is destruction.

Both stories are true. The story we are telling about Patricia's power to destroy and how it fled without loss of life and with "minimal damage" is a good story. It is easy to tell, easy to feel good about.

But the other story on the ground is also important. It is the one where ordinary people struggle with the power of Patricia at night and get up the following morning, not to coffee and a sunny day, but to rebuild their homes and lives, one shovel of mud at a time.

Carol Merchasin is a lawyer and author of This Is Mexico. She wrote this for The Philadelphia Inquirer.

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