Preparing for the height of hurricane season

Hurricane Alex, the first named storm of the 2010 Atlantic hurricane season, hits northeast Mexico on June 30. Photo: NOAA
Hurricane Isadore struck Mérida in 2002, above. That storm, along with Hurricane Wilma in 2005, are the most destructive hurricanes Yucatan has seen in recent memory. Photo: Getty

The following was contributed by Derek Kolb, American Citizen Services Chief – U.S. Consulate General in Mérida, Yucatán

We are fast approaching the peak of the hurricane season, the time of the year the Peninsula is most likely to be hit by a damaging storm.

Preparedness is key. The U.S. Consulate in Mérida can be a resource, but mainly as a source of information and advice.  Our efforts are devoted to keeping the local U.S. citizen community informed of developments and travel options.

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Expectations of rescue by helicopters, the U.S. military, and U.S. government-provided transportation with armed escorts reflect a Hollywood script more than reality. While a very few evacuations involve U.S. military or other U.S. government assets, the vast majority rely on commercial transportation and local infrastructure.  This means you should closely follow the news of developing storms and get out while you can.  Regularly scheduled commercial flights or transportation are always the best option when local communications and transportation infrastructure are intact and operating normally, even if we have advised all U.S. citizens to leave.

Part of being prepared is being informed.

Shelters

It will be helpful to know, for example, where the designated shelter for foreigners is located. Fortunately, it’s a large space that’s familiar to most of us: the Siglo XXI Convention Center, Calle 60 Norte 299E, Col. Revolucion.  Of course, you can drop in at any shelter. In Mérida, bookmark this updated, detailed, interactive map of all other shelters in and around Merida.

If you do go to a shelter, pack lightly and take a thick blanket, a change of clothes including extra shoes, and although the shelter will provide some, take your own extra food and water. Also, take your most important papers, such as your passport and birth certificate, in a plastic bag. Don’t forget your emergency cash, medicines, and personal hygiene items.

In a shelter, only one suitcase per person is allowed.

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Don’t count on taking your cat or dog.  Contact the shelter you intend to use to see if pets are permitted. No shelters list a designated pet area, although the Siglo XXI shelter is thinking of adding a space for foreigners with pets.

The municipal Civil Protection unit recommends organizing for pet protection beforehand, such as with a veterinarian or kennel. They also recommend having pet carriers ready in case the pet needs to be evacuated with you.

Mexico’s hurricane warning system is color coded.

Mexico’s Warning System

The national Mexican warning system is called the “Early Warning System for Tropical Cyclones” (SIAT – CT). Please see summary graphic below, as well as the more detailed description of warning levels attached. Alerts should be transmitted in English and Spanish during a crisis.

The Early Warning System consists of two alert tables, depending on whether the cyclone is approaching an affected area or if it is moving away from an area.

Approach (Inbound) Phase 

Blue Alert: Watch 

The presence of a tropical cyclone has been detected or more than 72 hours remain before the cyclone’s 34-knot (63-km/h) wind line reaches an affected area. The danger is considered to be minimal. At this stage, bulletins will be issued every 24 hours. At this stage, it is your responsibility to stay informed (media links follow).

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Green Alert: Prevention 

Between 24 and 72 hours remain before the cyclone’s 34-knot (63-km/h) wind line reaches an affected area, depending on the intensity of the cyclone. The danger is considered to be low. At this stage, bulletins will be issued every 12 hours. Stay informed on tropical cyclones and the measures to be taken.

Yellow Alert: Preparation 

This is when between 12 and 60 hours remain before the cyclone’s 34-knot (63-km/h) wind line reaches an affected area, depending on the intensity of the cyclone. The danger is considered to be moderate. At this stage, bulletins will be issued every six hours. The community is expected to pay close attention to official information, learn the location of temporary shelters, prepare for a possible evacuation and take self-protection measures.

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Orange Alert: Alarm 

This means between six and 36 hours remain before the cyclone’s 34-knot (63-km/h) wind line reaches an affected area or impact is imminent. The danger is considered to be high. At this stage, bulletins will be issued every three hours. The community is expected to evacuate at-risk areas, follow instructions from the authorities and cancel any boating or coastal activities.

Red Alert: Effects Present 

The Red Alert is established when a tropical cyclone is impacting an affected area. The danger is considered to be maximum. At this stage, bulletins will be issued every three hours. The community is expected to seek immediate shelter and obey authorities.

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Weather Channel image taken at 4 a.m. Thursday, Aug. 4., 2016.

Withdrawal (Outbound) Phase 

As the storm passes, the color-coded alert system is still in place.

Red Alert: Effects Present 

The Red Alert is established immediately after the impact of a tropical cyclone as long as it continues to affect the area directly until it begins to move away up to a maximum distance of 250 km. The effects of the cyclone continue to be felt. The danger is considered to be maximum. At this stage, bulletins will be issued every three hours. Stay in the shelter and listen to authorities.

Orange Alert: Alarm 

Now the cyclone has moved 100 and 400 km from an affected area, depending on the intensity of the cyclone. The danger is considered to be high. At this stage, bulletins will be issued every three hours. The community is expected to:

After Impact 

  • Remain in shelter until released by authorities
  • Follow instructions from the authorities

After Near-Miss 

  • Follow instructions from the authorities
  • Suspend maritime navigation activities
  • Suspend marine and coastal recreational activities

Yellow Alert: Tracking 

The storm is now 200 and 500 km away. The danger is considered to be moderate and bulletins will be issued every six hours. The community is expected to:

After Impact 

  • Heed authorities’ instructions
  • Review condition of housing. If significantly affected, move to temporary shelter
  • Exercise extreme caution with water and food
  • Begin clean-up effort

After Near-Miss 

  • Maintain high level of attention to official information
  • On the high seas, islands, and marine oil installations, comply with navigation instructions and Civil Protection
  • Stay prepared for possible evacuation
  • Continue with self-protection measures

Green Alert – Monitor 

The Yellow Alert is established when a tropical cyclone moving away reaches a distance of between 350 and 750 km from an affected area, depending on the intensity of the cyclone. The danger is considered to be low. At this stage, bulletins will be issued every 12 hours. The community is expected to:

After Impact 

  • Follow instructions from the authorities
  • Keep out of affected areas and buildings, trees, poles, etc., in danger of falling
  • Continue with hygiene measures in water and food

After Near-Miss 

  • Stay informed

Blue Alert: Warning 

The Blue Alert is established when a tropical cyclone moving away reaches a distance of at least 750 km from an affected area. The danger is considered to be minimal. At this stage, bulletins will be issued every 24 hours.

Stay informed

Here’s where to find news during a storm:

Cancun 

· Civil Protection Cancun

· City Hall Radio (Radio Ayuntamiento): FM 105.9 (Spanish)

Playa Del Carmen 

· Riviera FM SQCS: 98.1 FM (Spanish)

· Riviera FM Facebook Page

· Civil Protection of Quintana Roo (Click “Alertas” on the left for specific storm advisories) (Spanish)

Chetumal 

· Civil Protection of Quintana Roo (Click “Alertas” on the left for specific storm advisories) (Spanish)

Mérida 

· Mérida’s Department of Civil Protection (Spanish)—Includes list of all local emergency telephone numbers, including hospitals.

· Local SIPSE TV and Radio

What if you want to stay?

The U.S. Consulate in Mérida’s advice to U.S. citizens is to follow all local authorities’ instructions with regards to evacuation.

The Mexican Army and/or Navy could be called in to enforce an evacuation.

In Yucatán, if someone chooses not to evacuate during an emergency, even after the Mexican Military and Navy attempt to enforce the evacuation, Civil Protection will respect the person’s decision.

But in Quintana Roo, Civil Protection states that in extreme life-and-death circumstances, people, including U.S. citizens may be evacuated against their will.

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