Last Sunday, Brie and Nathan Schmidt were very frightened but calm as they dragged a boxspring up against their hotel room window. On top of that, they quickly piled furniture, then grabbed bedding and hid behind an inner half-wall.
The newlyweds huddled together and waited for the destruction that would soon arrive on their doorstep.
Category 3 Hurricane Odile was minutes away from smashing into the Mexican resort where the honeymooning couple from Red Deer were staying — in Cabo San Lucas in the Baja California peninsula.
They had just had a fantastic week of sun and relaxation.
They had checked on their return flight, scheduled to leave on Sunday, and everything was a go. But when they awoke at 5 a.m. that day, they learned their flight had suddenly been cancelled.
And what turned out to be the strongest hurricane on record to hit Mexico’s southern Baja California peninsula was well on its way. In its path were thousands of tourists largely oblivious to the danger, as were the locals, it seems.
As the storm over the ocean began to develop, locals told the Schmidts not to worry. It was no big deal. There hadn’t been a serious hurricane for decades — mostly they petered out before ever making landfall.
Hurricanes are measured on a scale from 1 to 5. Odile was a Category 4 (wind speeds of 209 to 251 km/h) but just before it made landfall it was downgraded to a Category 3 (178 to 208 km/h). Category 3 and higher is considered a major hurricane.
Brie, 28, and Nathan, 27, were married on Sept. 6 in Gull Lake before flying to Mexico for their honeymoon.
They have a five-year-old daughter (Nathan’s daughter, Brie’s stepdaughter), Lexie, who stayed home.
Now when Brie looks back, the fact they were told not to be concerned about the hurricane was, as she plainly puts it, “Just bonkers.”
One of the best decisions they made, she says, was to follow direction and leave the resort and head to a hotel near the airport on Sunday before the storm arrived.
It wasn’t as fancy as their resort but the Best Western Aeropuerto was closest to the airport and six storeys of solid concrete, with small windows. It was built to withstand hurricanes. That was their good luck, says Brie.
That evening, the couple tried to find out more about the hurricane but no local television stations were doing any live coverage, They ended up following the storm’s progress on social media, via Twitter, following a storm chaser who was in a hotel 15 minutes ahead of them.
As Josh Morgerman (Twitter handle @iCyclone) tweeted live that windows and doors were being blown out at his hotel, they knew what to expect and they began to barricade themselves in their room.
When the hurricane intensified, they could actually see some of the windows at their hotel bowing from the force, with water pouring in. The hotel suffered considerable damage.
“The hurricane made landfall at 10:45 p.m. that night, but the weather started getting really crazy around 7 or 8 p.m. I looked at my husband and said, ‘Oh my goodness, if it’s this bad now … and the hurricane’s still not even here.’ ”
“We were really scared. We had never been in any kind of a weather event like that before. Our only reference is when you see the really, really bad storms on the news.”
“You could feel that it was so strong that it was shaking the entire building. You could feel the building moving.”
They began to try to figure out what they would need to do if the hotel collapsed. Fortunately, that never happened and as the hours passed, so did the hurricane.
“When we went outside (Monday) and looked around, it was absolute devastation. Everything was destroyed.”
Brie believes she and Nathan were among a very small minority who realized what was happening. Part of that was due to people being told there was nothing to worry about and, also, everyone was in vacation mode, not paying attention.
On Monday, there was no means of communicating with family in Alberta to let them know they were OK. That was a special concern to Brie.
Earlier this year, on Jan. 6, Brie’s 19-year-old brother Damian Pannenbecker and five friends were in a terrible head-on vehicle crash just outside of Olds. The crash between their minivan and SUV on Hwy 27 killed Damian as well as another young man, age 20, and a 56-year-old woman. Four others were injured, three of them critically.
Brie knew her family would be very worried about them. But they had no way of contacting them because phones and power were out.
On Monday, people didn’t know what to do or where to go. The airport building nearby was a mess, unusable. Then on Tuesday, the Mexican military and police arrived.
“You guys need to go and you need to go now,” they were told. They eventually made their way to the airport where hundreds or tourists and Mexican nationals were lined up outside in the open air, in 34C weather, no water available.
“People were just pouring into the airport,” said Brie. “My husband and I actually almost ended up getting separated, but we managed to stay together.”
Luck was again with them — they only had to wait three hours before an Aeroméxico plane, compliments of the Mexican government, arrived to take them to Mexico City.
As soon as they arrived there on Tuesday, they began to get in touch with much-relieved family members who immediately booked them a flight home.
They arrived on Wednesday at Calgary International Airport, family delighted to see them.
Because of her brother’s death, everything was that much more stressful for her family, says Brie. “They didn’t know what was going on … but they got through it and they were really happy that we were home. We were really happy that we were home!
“We were very lucky that we made the decisions that we did because there are still people stuck there … and it sounds like the situation is deteriorating really quickly.
“We’ve definitely learned our lesson about vacationing during hurricane season,” Brie says.
Now she wants trying to remind people that those who live in the hurricane area have lost absolutely everything and are going to need help to rebuild.
She doesn’t want the local victims of Hurricane Odile to be forgotten.
As for her and Nathan, she laughs when she says their hurricane honeymoon was a “good relationship building exercise.”