News & Politics

New Yorkers Trapped by Hurricane Odile in Mexico Describe Ineffectual U.S. Response

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Mark Brinda lives in Brooklyn, but he goes on a fishing trip in Cabo San Lucas every year in September. September is the month when his 82-year-old great-uncle, a farmer from South Dakota, has a lull in his harvest schedule long enough to allow a vacation like the one they took with Mark’s father, brother, and two friends last week. The only difference this year was that their trip happened to coincide with one of the strongest hurricanes in Cabo’s history.

Hurricane Odile made landfall on Sunday night, bringing 116 mile per hour winds with her. For the following four days, Brinda and his friends were left without power or running water, and had only limited, irregular access to drinking water. “Monday there was plenty of water; Tuesday in the morning they had filled up community water-cooler tanks, but by lunchtime those were empty, and they were handing out sugary drinks,” Brinda tells the Voice.

With virtually no cellular service or any way, really, to contact the outside world, Brinda and his friends stationed themselves in the lobby of their hotel, where, since the majority of guests were American tourists, they expected that someone from the U.S. State Department would eventually come to help. Representatives from the Canadian government collected their citizens from the hotel on Wednesday, but no one from the U.S. ever showed. There was “absolutely no presence or communication from the State Department at the hotel,” Brinda says.

Brinda is not alone in his exasperation. Many of the thousands of Americans who were stranded in Cabo and other areas of Mexico have voiced frustration with the U.S. response to the storm.

Brinda and his friends and family eventually made it to the airport (after bribing a hotel worker for a ride), where he says they were among “thousands” waiting in line on Thursday. Canadian and British officials were walking up and down the queue, Brinda observed, pulling their citizens out, giving them food and water, and putting them on planes, while citizens of other countries, including the U.S., were left to wither in the staggering heat.

“We had an 18-month-old infant in front of us, his parents had too much stuff to carry, the kid was screaming all day because sun lotion got in his eyes, and the only water they had was the water we gave them,” Brinda says. “That family was deemed sufficiently well off to stand in the sun all day. There were many, many other families in the same boat.”

When they did finally make it onto the plane, Brinda was flummoxed to count more than 25 empty seats on the flight, even as a long line of Americans remained behind, still waiting for a flight home.

On Saturday, the State Department released a statement, saying, “There is active engagement of all parts of the U.S. government working together to assist in the safe return of U.S. citizens from Mexico in the wake of Hurricane Odile.” The agency also warned that commercial flights may be suspended this week, “to give priority to humanitarian and reconstruction efforts.”

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