I was shocked, to say the least, when I pulled up the satellite image of Wilma on Wednesday morning. She had turned from a Category 1 to a Category 5 overnight! And she was on the move! Projections now had her eye either passing directly over us or within 20 miles of us! Either way, too close for comfort. When winds of 155 mph extend outwards from the eye for 75 miles, 20 miles is way too dangerous. We were looking at big trouble and we knew it.
That day was spent checking and restocking our hurricane kit, getting more bottles of purified water and bringing everything left outdoors into the house. We put most of the furniture up on cement blocks and moved everything of any importance to us up onto the highest shelves of the house. We put three of the six hurricane shutters up and considered ourselves done for the day. The three of us had already had many discussions about whether to stay or leave. My vote was always for fleeing, B’s was always to stay. No surprises there! L refused to vote or take sides. Until later in the day. The projected path now had the eye passing directly over us. To purposely stay in the path of a Category 5 hurricane when you have an option to leave was just pure madness, in my opinion. I guess L agreed because first thing we knew, he had the travel guide out and was calling Merida to book a room for two nights. Thursday and Friday. B had reluctantly agreed that we had better leave.
Late in the day, B and I stopped by our friend P’s house to see what preparations she was making and to see if she needed anything. She informed us that she was fine and that she was staying. She had been advised by several people that she should not stay in her house though. Like us, she is right on the waterfront and could potentially be sitting in a bad position. She was going to ride it out with some friends in their house in the middle of the island. They live right on the lake in the interior. She would be safe from any surge there. Or so we all thought at the time. A Mexican friend of hers had also stopped by and told her he was vacating to Valledolid with his family. He told her that they had announced that the 6:30 pm car ferry would be the last one to leave the island before the hurricane! This was not good news at all.We now had to make the decision as to whether to try to make that ferry and get off the island, or forget it and stay here and ride Wilma out.
We raced home and shared the news with L. It was a horrible five minutes as we all did emotional gymnastics. To leave? To stay? The time had come for that decision and it had to be made….and fast. We decided we at least had to try to catch that ferry. Whether we would get on it or not was unknown. We made a frenzied, almost insane rush to finish putting up the hurricane shutters, packing our backpacks, shutting off the water, electricity and gas and doing whatever else we could think of to prepare the house. Then we took one last look and locked the door behind us.
We arrived at the ferry with 40 minutes to spare. But we were not the only ones there. The parking lot was full of cars, and worse, construction trucks and delivery vehicles all trying to get off the island also. I dropped B off at the ticket window and took my place in line. L and I waited and waited but B did not return to the car. That could only mean that they were not selling anymore tickets. Either they were waiting to see how many vehicles they could get on, or they were sold out. I sent L to check. I sat there, mentally biting my nails and trying not to panic. If we did not get on this ferry, we would have no choice but to stay and ride out this impending hurricane. The tension was awful. They kept loading truck after truck but very few cars. Then, with very little space left, they did the unthinkable. They started to load a huge piece of road repair equipment that was on tracks instead of wheels. This piece of equipment would take up any room left on the ferry. My heart sank as I sat there and watched, feeling we were doomed. It was such a feeling of helplessness and despair.
Suddenly, to my great joy, there was a commotion where they were trying to load this huge beast of machinery. They had been putting down logs in front of it for the tracks to ride on. It apparently had slipped off one of the logs and the track had come off! No way they were going to load it now! That meant that there was going to be some room for cars. But I was so far back in the line, I really did not hold much hope of getting on. I was right. The loaders immediately starting motioning to several cars to get on. I slowly moved further towards the front. When I could see that there was only room for three more cars and that I was now fifth in line, I lost all hope. B and L were still standing at the ticket window. I think they knew we would not get on also but were waiting, just in case they had to pay for a ticket. My mind was racing with horrible visions of howling winds and water flooding into my house when I realized that the loader was motioning for me to get out of line and get on the ferry! Thank God for having a compact car that takes up little space! I felt horrible passing around the people in front of me who obviously also wanted on that ferry as badly as I did. But I was not the one making decisions that night. As I turned onto the ramp, with a grin so wide it hurt my face, I saw B and L running towards me with a ticket in hand. I parked the car on the ferry and met up with B and L. Together we ascended to the passenger deck. None of us said anything more than “We made it”. We were all lost temporarily in our thoughts. We discussed it later and we were all thinking the same thing. So glad to have made it, but so very sad to be leaving and also angry that this was happening to us at all.
The crossing was rough. The waves were huge and the ferry rides very low in the water. We literally crashed our way across with huge volleys of water flying up and over the vehicles with every wave. I was glad it was night and I could not see further than the ferry lights directly in front of us. I did not want a clear look at the angry water we were trying to get through. I understood why there would be no ferries as I watched the water below us. It was just too dangerous to continue. Whoever was left on the island would just have to batten down as tightly as possible.