It always amazes me to see the government’s rapid response to hurricanes here in Mexico and how it differs so much from what happens in the US. Hurricane Ernesto came through town last week and really made a mess of the downtown beach. Most natural or “palapa” style structures, the only thing allowed by the government on it’s beach, were either heavily damaged or completely destroyed and a couple feet of sand had been washed away from the ocean and onto the Malecon and side streets. It was really a mess.
In the US, the typical response is too first form a task force, whatever that is, and take a bunch of spray paint and paint all over stuff, all the while, not doing anything until the insurance adjustor comes to access the damage. Lots of pictures and more spray paint but no check. In the interim, the task force has become a “joint task force”, so now they can get right down to heart of the matter. How are we going to help the victims, right. Wrong. Who is going to pay for all this is always the first question. The Feds say the state, the state says the municipalities and the federally regulated utilities, and they all say the insurance companies, who just say, “we aren’t paying for that. Read the fine print.” All the while, Americans, almost all who have paid taxes and insurance premiums for years, sit and wait in the dark, looking for their lawyer’s phone number that they will be calling, if the phones ever come back on.
Well, it does not work that way here in Mexico. Here it is different and done in a way that could really never work in a place like the US. Bureaucracies and regulation, like the nonsense I describe above, make it so. This is especially true in places like Mahahual, where the income the town produces from tourism is an important part of Mexico’s # 2 industry. Our beaches were cleaned of debris, the sand was reclaimed and placed back on the beaches in 3 days. The power was back on partially the next day and completely repaired in less than a week. Most beach business were back in operation in less than that. It was really an amazing thing to watch.
It seemed there were two competing interests for the repair services, the tourist areas vs the residential areas. The money making tourist areas of course won out and got attention first but the entire town really did get fair treatment by the government services. The residential areas only had power at night for several days but they did get power back partially at least by the second day. When it comes to the roads and beaches in the town, the government just says stay out of the way. They look at it as those beaches and roads, like our malecon, are their property and they do not ask or wait on you to tell them what to save or pick up for example. If you want to keep it, you better get it out of the way.
The first equipment began to show late morning after the storm had begun to clear. By the end of the day, probably 20 vehicles, loaders, backhoes, skidsters, dump trucks and boom claws were well into the clean up. The second day, the number rose to over 50 vehicles, and sand and palapa pieces were flying everywhere. Local politicians and muckity mucks were everywhere looking concerned and on the job for the many TV crews and reporters. Lots of guys with shovels, hand cutters and rakes walking around helping load debris and push sand where the large equipment could not reach. At one point, about 8 guys were in front of my place waiting on the equipment and noticed us pushing the sand from the restaurant floors. They immediately came into the place and started pushing my sand from the restaurant. They did in 5 minutes what it would have taken me all afternoon to do. That was because there were 8 strong young guys and we were 2 old guys of course. That and they worked until it was finished, and we worked until the next beer break. But no matter, it was cokes all around (they refused beer???) after which they toasted Buster’s and away they went, in a sandy haze, to the next place. Muchos gracias Mexico!
In three days, the malecon and the downtown beach looked almost new again. And just as the equipment showed up from nowhere, it seemed to disappear just as fast. How did that happen? Again, very different than in the US. The government has set rates they pay in disaster relief times for equipment, operators and per diem and it is paid in cash each day. A backhoe gets so much, a sugar cane boom claw another rate and so forth. Even manual hand labor is done that way. Very simple, show up and get busy and get paid at the end of the day. No insurance waivers, proof of workman’s comp (Mexico has universal health care) no waiting for the guys with the spray paint. Papers, we don’t need no stinking papers!
In Mexico, people pay very little in taxes and almost none have insurance, so what they expect in return is also very little. Unlike Americans who pay a lot in taxes and insurance premiums to be taken care of in emergency situations, Mexicans know if it is going to get fixed, you better get off your butt and do it. They begin the cleanup immediately after the storm hits. The federally regulated power and phone companies have staged wire, poles, transformers and even giant mobile augers close but away from the storm area before it arrives. Once the storm clears, locals know that if they want power, which means lights, gasoline and so forth, they need to clear the way for the utility company workers. Men, women and children all start removing debris and piling on street corners. Trucks with boom claws come right behind and clear the streets and the utility crews are right behind. Poetry in motion! Not a can of spray paint was seen either.
Not all poetry is perfect, and the way Mexico does this does not produce perfect results. I mean, these are mainly contractors or field workers and really, they could care less about much except the pay at the end of the day. The “heffe” says just clean this place up and that is what they do. In their exuberance, or the clusterfuck as some might have called it, they also took down repairable public restrooms, a former governor’s beach palapa bar (huge oooops!), lifeguard stands, and vendors booths. I just looked at them as collateral casualties of no spray paint but in the big picture that is cleanup expense, pretty small. My guess is that the three days of cleanup here might have cost the government a few hundred thousand dollars, including rebuilding the stuff that should not have been torn down. In the US, it would have taken weeks or months and millions to do the comparable work. Come on, spray paint can’t be that expensive!