Tomás Morales Vega shivered and huddled close to his co-workers in a narrow corridor outside the doctor’s office. They knew they’d be waiting awhile—there was only one doctor on the Pol-A platform processing center, one of almost 240 platforms and other structures operated in the Gulf of Mexico by Petróleos Mexicanos, or Pemex, Mexico’s state-owned oil company. Outside, wind whipped the platform and waves smashed into its towering steel legs.
Morales, a 62-year-old mechanical integrity engineer, had been feeling ill for days, but when he finally saw the doctor he was told to return to his bunk; there were many other people who were sicker than he was. He kept working. He ate his meals in a poorly ventilated dining room with as many as 100 other people. He shared 160 square feet of living space with three men as he tried to ignore his worsening dizziness, fever, and headaches. By the time a helicopter came for him on April 16, the sky buzzed with air ambulances evacuating the sick from the platforms and a nearby Pemex flotel, a floating hotel that sleeps 700 workers. “There were a lot of infected people,” Morales says. “The doctors couldn’t get people off the platforms fast enough.”