Ann Valdez of Issaquah has difficulty talking about her escape. Her voice quavers, she tries hard not to cry. She and her husband, Jason...

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Ann Valdez of Issaquah has difficulty talking about her escape.

Her voice quavers, she tries hard not to cry. She and her husband, Jason, were in Cancún a week ago when Hurricane Wilma hit. Like other tourists, their return flight had been canceled, and they were stuck. They moved from their hotel to a shelter based in a college.

Officials at the shelter then moved them from their assigned place in a hallway to an interior classroom moments before winds knocked out huge glass windows and doors.

“We had been right where the glass fell,” Ann Valdez said. “We would have been killed.”

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The shelter ran out of food and water. People were sick and some were dying.

“People kept saying they were waiting for their luggage,” Valdez said. “Luggage? There weren’t even hotels left.”

Jason and Ann, along with two other couples, struck out for Mérida, about 170 miles west, around 3 p.m. Sunday. Mérida had the nearest operating airport.

The group found a taxi driver with a Chevy Suburban willing to make the trip. At times flood waters splashed over the hood, she said. The couples saw cars float by under water, headlights still shining. At times, they drove the wrong way on one-way roads.

They reached Mérida late Sunday. Monday, they caught a flight to Mexico City and then begged their way onto a flight to Los Angeles. It took them until Tuesday to get home.

“I kept saying we had to stay alive and get home to our three children,” Valdez said. “Until you’ve been through the winds and rains, you have no idea how awful a hurricane can be.”

They had an added incentive to get home. Wednesday was their son’s fifth birthday.

Life celebration

LaMar Harrington didn’t live long enough to see her beloved Bellevue Arts Museum reopen. The former director died March 23. The announcement it would reopen was made a month later.

Artists, friends and fans of Harrington will gather Wednesday at the museum to celebrate her memory.

In the early 1950s, she volunteered at the Pacific Northwest Arts and Crafts Fair — the event that spawned the Bellevue Art Museum.

Harrington became so interested in visual arts from those experiences that she went to the University of Washington and earned a degree in art history. She became a curator and eventually associate director at the Henry Art Gallery.

She was recruited in 1985 to direct the Bellevue Art Museum, then on the third floor of Bellevue Square.

From then until her 1990 retirement, Harrington changed the museum from a small-town venue to a cultural touchstone by staging dynamic exhibitions. She planted the vision of a stand-alone museum in the cultural consciousness of the Eastside.

The words may sound impressive, but Harrington was much more. She was loved by artists and patrons for the passion and inspiration she brought to the arts community.

Wednesday would have been her 88th birthday.

Although the event is open to the public, reservations to the dessert extravaganza would be appreciated. RSVP to anna.littlewood@gmail.com.

Sherry Grindeland: 206-515-5633 or sgrindeland@seattletimes.com