Carol Merchasin

is a lawyer and author of "This Is Mexico: Tales of Culture and Other Complications"

I live part time in what the media are calling the "sparsely populated stretch" where Hurricane Patricia hit Mexico. In fact, I live so close to where Patricia made landfall that I can see the computer-generated spot from my house.

When the storm barreled through, I wasn't there - I was in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, where I had been participating in a storytelling festival. I was learning about the power of story, and how one situation can create many stories, all of them true.

The predominant story being told about Hurricane Patricia is as powerful as the storm was. Its transformation from a minor-league storm to the most powerful ever recorded captured our attention. We watched in horror and fascination as its power grew; we learned that the last time a storm of this magnitude had struck land almost 7,000 people had been killed.

We gasped with relief at President Enrique Pena Nieto's midnight announcement that there had been no deaths and no major infrastructure damage. When Patricia was all over, it was clear that the major tourist destinations had been spared. In Puerto Vallarta, tourists and residents alike celebrated their escape from expected destruction on Saturday morning with coffee and an ordinary sunny day. From a certain safe vantage point, Patricia looked almost beautiful.

But up and down the coast where the hurricane made landfall, there is another story. The "sparsely populated stretch" the media refer to is made up of real villages that have names: Punta Perula, San Mateo, Morelos, Cuitzmala, and more. On the ground, there are people with names: Maricela, the retired kindergarten teacher and owner of a taqueria on the town square; YaYa and Herme, who own the tiny store where people meet their neighbors while buying their daily tortillas and grocery items; Rosa, who cuts and colors hair in a salon smaller than an American bathroom.

On the ground, this ground, there is more than "minimal damage." There is considerable damage - houses that provided shelter are gone, roofs blown away, fishing boats that provided a living for families destroyed. There is little food, no water, no electricity, no communication; downed trees and mudslides block roads. Everywhere there is destruction. And remember, even before Patricia, these people were poor.

Both stories are true. The story we are telling about Patricia's power to destroy and how it fled without loss of life and with "minimal damage" is a good story - an archetype. It is easy to tell, easy to feel good about.

But the other story on the ground is also important. It is the one where ordinary people struggle with the power of Patricia on Friday night, and get up on Saturday morning, not to coffee and a sunny day, but to rebuild their homes and lives, and help their neighbors do the same, one shovel of mud at a time. That's not the easy story - mud, after all, is not sexy - but that is the story I want to tell.