Hurricane Wilma is headed for the Yucatan. Not that we're worried or anything. Merida is probably the safest large city in a hurricane zone that we can think of, now that we think of it.
For one thing, the majority of houses here are built of stone and concrete block. It would take more than a hurricane to blow these walls down. Our house is probably almost 100 years old. Many of the houses here are even older than that. So houses don't blow away like they do in Florida. Mayan huts have in the past been made of sticks and palapas, but even now, they are increasingly being built from concrete block with palapa roofs. Palapas do blow away in hurricanes, and so the more well-to-do Mayans all seem to have at least one house with a concrete roof. Hot in the summertime, but safe in a hurricane.
Trees fall onto houses, and sometimes that is a problem. But strangely, based on our experience in the last hurricane (Isidore), trees mostly seem to fall into streets. One thing that does happen in a hurricane is that the trees get all their leaves blown off and blown to bits. With Hurricane Isidore it seemed like we were picking leaf-bits out of our teeth for a week afterwards.
Another thing is flooding. Merida is 30 miles inland from the nearest body of water. And that's the thing about the Yucatan Peninsula. The water flows underground. So we don't get raging rivers or if they are raging, we can't see them or be hurt by them. Of course, we wouldn't recommend exploring caves during or after a hurricane... getting trapped in a cave by an underground flood doesn't sound like fun. Topside, though, the water seems to puddle and then soak away pretty quickly. There were a few Mayan towns that were flooded in 3-4 feet of water after Isidore, but it lasted a week or two and then was gone. No fun for those Mayans, but not life threatening.
The other great thing about living here (not exclusive to Merida) is the response of the government after the hurricane. Mexico has a fairly large, well-distributed army. After Hurricane Isidore, the Army was out in force, clearing trees and making roads passable and getting food and supplies to the villagers who had lost food, housing and clothing. We went to Costco at the first opportunity, stocked up on things like rice, beans and diapers, and drove out to one of those villages an hour away where we knew a family. Not once did we see anything approaching a checkpoint or a roadblock. The Army wasn't about that at all. They were just providing the muscle for the citizens to get their city back.
Power came back to Merida Centro, where the government offices are, in about 48 hours. We live five blocks away, and we got power after 5 days. From then on, power was rapidly brought back in wider and wider concentric circles around the city. But since many people live with less or very little electricity in Merida, downed power lines just weren't as big a deal as they might have been somewhere else. Still, we heard that 5,000 power poles had gone down, and they were all back up within a couple months.
So while Hurricane Wilma gathers, and the skies grow cloudy outside (which they are doing quickly now), we're really not worried. We don't particularly want the hurricane to come here, but we're not afraid of it either. When we first moved to Merida, we wondered why the Spaniards would build a city here of all places. There's no river, no lake, no geographical feature that would warrant a city in this place (except the ancient Mayan city called T'ho). But whenever a hurricane threatens, I think perhaps the ancestors had wisdom and foresight and just maybe they knew exactly what they were doing.