In just over a year, the Hyatt Ziva Los Cabos resort has gone from a scene out of a war zone to a beautiful brand new all-inclusive beach front property. Guests will be amazed how this happened after Hurricane Odile struck the Baja coast in September of 2014 and devastated the entire coast line. The answer is complex, as there were many pieces of the puzzle that had to come together for the resort’s grand re-opening last month, but the recovery of Hyatt Ziva Los Cabos is nothing short of a miracle.
A Storm is Coming
On Saturday, September 13, 2014, guests were enjoying their relaxing vacations at the Hyatt Ziva Los Cabos resort. They were aware a hurricane was possibly headed their way, but the storm was expected to be a Category 2. This meant there would be heavy rain and sustained winds of 96 to 110 mph and flooding in low lying areas would be likely. Hurricane warnings are not uncommon for this region of Baja Mexico, so precautionary measures were taken to prepare the 450 guests of the hotel for what was coming their way. Francisco J. Silva, the General Manager of the property, had only been on the job six months, but he was prepared for what they originally thought was going to be a difficult, but manageable storm.
The people of San José del Cabo and Cabo San Lucas had been tracking the storm for days. They knew there was the possibility of a direct hit, but no one could have predicted the storm would ultimately be the strongest tropical cyclone to slam the Baja California coast. The storm was supposed to curve away from land and head out to sea, but that didn’t happen.
Preparations Are Made
On Sunday afternoon guests were told to leave their luggage in their rooms and bring their important documents with them to the Grand Theater of Hyatt Ziva Los Cabos. The Cabo San Lucas airport had been shut down at noon, so the hotel was the only choice for waiting out the storm. The theater is an enormous room on the ground floor of the resort with tiered seating and no windows. Tables and chairs can be moved around (and were) to make people comfortable. Some people brought pillows and bedding to wait out the storm and the hotel provided everyone with food and water. Including hotel staff, they were a group of 720 people hoping for the best, but expecting the worst.
Mr. Silva, the general manager, had stationed a lookout in one of the beach front units to provide communication via a walkie talkie. This person let him know as the storm gradually grew stronger and made landfall just before 10:00 Sunday night. It is estimated the wind was over 125 mph and it was declared a Category 3 storm. The power had been out for a couple of hours at this point, but the resort was running on back up generators. Around the same time, the storm surge started to come, first enveloping the beach, then the hotel’s swim up bar, then the swimming area. Mr. Silva was concerned the water would make it to the Grand Theater which is, by my estimate, a good 300 yards away, maybe more. The security person in the outer building kept Francisco appraised of the situation and they knew it was not going to be good when everything was over.
After the storm passed, there was no communication with the outside world because the phone lines were dead. There was no gas, no electricity, no drinkable water, and the airport was closed. The damage was unbelievable. Hotel windows were blown out, palm trees looked like toothpicks stripped of their fronds, and debris was everywhere. A quarter million people in the area were without electricity. The people at Hyatt Ziva Los Cabos were essentially in a holding pattern because there was nowhere to go. The San José del Cabo airport had suffered massive destruction and was closed indefinitely. People compared it to a war zone.
On Tuesday morning, the hotel was finally able to start evacuating guests. Shuttles were arranged to take guests to the airport, but since the airport wasn’t up and running, there were a lot of charter flights that had to be scheduled and people described the scene as chaotic. It had been a long couple of days for everyone, and people at the airport were desperate to get home.
The staff members from the Hyatt Ziva Los Cabos were finally able to get home to their loved ones as well. They returned to damaged and flooded homes, power outages, no phone service, and no gas. Looting at the grocery stores created a lack of food as well. There were 70 employees of the resort who lost everything they owned.
Rebuilding and Re-Opening
Hyatt Los Zivas began assessing the damage in earnest and realized they would have to rebuild. Employees would be without jobs, but their intent was to save jobs for those who could wait for the rebuilding. Hyatt Corporate and Playa Resorts (the company who operates Ziva and Zilara on behalf of Hyatt) pitched in to help the families who lost everything. As Mr. Silva told me, they were there to support the employees of the resort from the aftermath to the re-opening, making sure they had everything they needed to get back on their feet. The majority of those employees did return.
Hurricane Odile goes down in the record books as the strongest hurricane to ever make landfall in Baja California. After going through the evacuation, the devastation, and recovery, Silva says the one thing he would do different if and when a hurricane is forecast would be “evacuate sooner.” I think many would echo that sentiment.
The communities of San José del Cabo and Cabo San Lucas poured their hearts and souls into rebuilding this past year. They worked together quickly to make their community “tourist ready” and it shows. There is still construction along the main highway between the two towns, but for the most part, it’s business as usual.
A storm like this definitely changes one’s perspective. When you talk to the people who lived through the hurricane, rebuilt their town, rebuilt the resort, and came out on the other side with a positive outlook, you can’t help but be inspired. The people of Cabo San Lucas, San José del Cabo, and the Hyatt Ziva Los Cabos lived through the disaster, and worked together to rebuild this amazing community and spectacular new resort. When visitors walk in the new lobby, see the view, the smiles on the faces of the employees, and enjoy the heartfelt welcome, they will know Hyatt Ziva Los Cabos has truly been reborn.
*Thank you to Francisco J. Silva, the general manager of Hyatt Ziva Los Cabos for taking time out of his busy schedule to answer my questions about the events of the that day. His input was invaluable.
For other articles related to the new Hyatt Ziva Los Cabos, head to: Hyatt Ziva Los Cabos – A Kid’s Point of View and Hyatt Ziva Los Cabos – Luxury You Never Want To Leave