Wilma interrupts area natives' honeymoon
WORTHINGTON -- A honeymoon is something nearly every married couple is destined to never forget, and that couldn't be truer for a newlywed pair from southwest Minnesota.
Angela Untiedt, originally from Sioux Valley, and Jed Herrig, who grew up in Slayton, got married Oct. 15 at Round Lake Presbyterian Church. Two days later, the Fergus Falls residents were on a plane that departed the Twin Cities for the Mexican coastal paradise of Canc?n.
The Herrigs' vacation turned out to be far from paradise, thanks to the ferocity of Hurricane Wilma.
"We didn't really hear about it until the night before we left," Angela said. "Then we saw 'Tropical Storm Wilma is in the Caribbean.' But we didn't know where it was going to go."
The storm arrives
Angela and Jed arrived in Canc?n at about noon Monday and enjoyed ideal weather both that day and Tuesday. Then, on Wednesday, they visited nearby Mayan ruins and encountered continuous rain, but the precipitation was unrelated to Hurricane Wilma.
"When we got back to the hotel, we asked someone from the front desk if the hurricane was coming our way," Angela said. "He said it wasn't going to be that bad. 'If we're going to have to evacuate, we'll call you.'"
"He said it was just going to brush right past us," Jed added.
The Herrigs looked for news coverage of the approaching storm, but the only English-language reports they could get were for five minutes at the top of every hour on CNN. They eventually went to sleep, only to be awakened early the next morning by their ringing telephone.
It was the start of the evacuation process.
"He (hotel staff member) just said to put everything in the bathroom and tub -- all of your luggage and stuff -- and just take your travel documents, everything you need to get out of the country," Jed said. "But you'll be back in two days."
A new home
Angela and Jed grabbed their travel papers, as well as a change of clothes, and were taken to another hotel in downtown Canc?n. At first, they were told they would be sharing a room with another couple and would be checked in shortly.
"We waited for probably three or four hours and they finally told us that we had to go to something like a conference room," Angela recalled. "There were mattresses laid on the floor, so you grabbed a mattress and said, 'Here's our new home.'"
The room also had large glass windows, encompassing an entire side, which was boarded up in anticipation of the storm. There were plenty of TVs, including entertainment for young children, but everything was in Spanish. At least the food was excellent, Angela said.
The Herrigs stayed in that room Thursday night, during which the electricity went out at approximately 2 a.m. A generator kicked in, but that would prove to be a short-term solution.
"Friday morning, they said that since the side was all glass, they were going to move us out of there into the hallways of the hotel on the second, third and fourth floors," Angela stated. "They said we could bring our blankets and pillows."
Life in a hallway
Angela and Jed arrived in the hall they were moved into, and they quickly spotted several access panels within the concrete walls. They removed as many panels as they could, so that they wouldn't blow out of the walls and cause injury.
"When we got there, wind blew one of the access panels out," Jed said. "We heard a large crash that came from inside one of the panels."
"Our guess was a brick went through one of the panels ... and then water started pouring in," Angela said.
The Herrigs got together with a few other couples, and the men went off to look for whatever other accommodations could be found inside the hotel. They soon had another new home; the manager's office.
"It had a twin bed that folded down and it was dry, and the water in the office was probably two inches deep," Angela remembered. "We camped the next two nights in there ... and were in the hall during the day."
In the meantime, stranded travelers told stories to each other as well as jokes like, "I wish Wilma would go home to Fred," Angela said. They had to keep some humor; the conditions around them were getting worse.
"On Friday night, we had a chicken leg, a chicken wing and a cup of cold refried beans," Angela noted.
"And a hard-boiled egg that wasn't very hard," Jed added.
Feedings would be once a day from that point on. Additionally, by the time Saturday had rolled around, water had stopped running.
"They took a toilet and set it in a tool shed," Angela explained. "When you went to the bathroom, you were given toilet paper and a bag. You had to throw your toilet paper in the bag. By Saturday ... the toilet was so disgusting nobody wanted to go in it."
By Sunday, a Canc?n family had allowed the Herrigs and two other couples to use two rooms it had been occupying. Things were a bit better then, but power was still out and water off. They managed some amusement, Jed pointed out, by "throwing our hard-boiled eggs off the balcony to see who could throw them the farthest."
There was also a trip outside the hotel, into a store where Jed said a woman was saying, "Take food, and take food." Jed left the store, wary of being caught by either nearby policemen or a film crew he also spotted.
They also got to connect with Jed's parents on Sunday afternoon via telephone. That's around the time things began getting more bearable. Water finally began running Monday ("When I heard the toilet flush, it was probably the best noise I'd ever heard in my life," Angela said), and that night, each had showers for the first time in five days -- but the water was cold and the Herrigs had to change back into the only clothes they had with them.
The next day brought Angela and Jed together with their travel agent and on their way to getting home at last.
The Herrigs were taken by their travel agent to an office about three miles from their hotel, and about 45 minutes later were in a van headed to an airport in Mérida. Normally about a 4½-hour trip, the journey took 6½ hours due to weather damage.
"We got there at 6:30 p.m., and they told us there was a plane on the ground and that our flight would leave at 8," Angela said. "They put us in a line outside, and then about 7:30 they brought us inside and put us in a line for tickets.
"At 12:30 a.m., they finally told us the plane had to leave because there were too many other planes there. So we ended up spending the night on an airport floor after spending five nights in a shelter."
The next morning -- it was now Wednesday, the 26th -- the Herrigs woke and saw that one of the tourists was organizing travelers into groups. By around 2 p.m., they were told that a flight for Minneapolis-St. Paul would be leaving at 7 p.m., and that the plane was en route to Mérida.
Five hours later, their ride home had indeed arrived.
"As soon as we saw that Champion airplane, everybody cheered," Angela said.
"After we had boarded, the pilot said he was sorry we had waited for so long and asked if there was anything he could do for us," Jed added. "He said he had circled the airport the night before, but they wouldn't let him land.
"As it turned out, we were basically the first Americans out of that airport."
Passengers had occasion to cheer once again once the plane got off the ground, and once again upon arriving at its Minnesota destination. Angela said the pilot even told a joke when getting to the Twin Cities: "Oh, there's something wrong with the plane. We have to go back."
The Herrigs were indeed back -- on home soil -- at midnight Thursday (though they're still waiting for their luggage from their first Canc?n hotel) after an ordeal that had essentially began when they had been woken up by a phone call eight days earlier. So, after everything that happened, would they ever go back to the Mexican resort?
"I'm not going anywhere where there's water during hurricane season," Angela vowed. "I wouldn't mind going there again ... if it's January."