Thursday, June 10, 2010

Tropical Storm Agatha

At the end of May, Guatemala was hit by the first tropcial storm of the season, Agatha. Many parts of Guatemala City and the country were severly damaged as a result of the heavy rains that lasted for more than 24 hours. What follows is the story of a community in Zone 6 in Guatemala City and images from the storm taken in the department of Sololá where the communiteis of Santiago Atitlan and Panabj are located.

Rock of Salvation Mennonite Church opens its doors as shelter for those suffering the affects of the start of the rainy season

Story Antony and Irma Judith Sanchez

Claudia Alamnzo, 23, lives with her husband Estuardo Bernal, 26, and their two children Denilson, 4, and Venessa, 1 month, in a shantytown near the neighborhood of San Juan de Dios, Zone 6 in Guatemala City. On May 29, Claudia, along with her two children were caught off guard by the strong rains caused by the tropical storm Agatha. Her tin-roofed, wooden house along with the lot where the house was located, 50 meters down the side of a canyon, were completely washed away and destroyed by a landslide caused by the rain.

Claudia moved to this area five years ago when she decided to share her life with Estuardo who has lived in Zone 6 since childhood. “I was alone in the house with my two children when the rains started. Our house started to flood so I decided the best thing to do was to leave. I took my two children and we went to the highest part of the community. All of our things were buried underneath the landslide that happened just a few minutes after we left. Now our house simply does not exist. Thank God that the Mennonite Church has opened its doors and we can safely sleep there,” said Claudia. “We were watching the news when we heard the sound of the water and a landslide of mud and trees; our houses were filled with water and mud,” said Nora Muralles, another mother who lives in the same area.

The neighborhood of San Juan de Dios is located on the edge of a canyon where the Las Vacas River runs deep below. The families’ homes have been built down the sides of the canyon which is approximately 100 meters deep. The area had been used as a garbage dump, but about seven years ago dozens of families started arriving to build their homes in the canyon. The construction of the houses has not followed any type of construction regulation, being built piece by piece as the owners are able to find the economic means to buy the materials. The houses are mostly built of wood, tin, and cardboard with some retaining walls made of brick or concrete.

In general, the families here are very poor and many of them have multiple children. The men work informally at selling on the street or driving buses and taxis, while some have more formal work. Their income is around $10-$12 a day and very few of them have access to social security benefits. The women dedicate most of their time to taking care of the home, helping to sustain the family economically by working occasionally for other families doing housework.

Claudia’s husband is a bus driver. He generally leaves for work at 5:00 am and returns home at 8:00 pm. Claudia lives double amounts of stress on a daily basis. On one hand, she deals with the stress of having a husband work as a bus driver in an environment of violence that often affects city bus drivers and the transportation system in Guatemala. On the other hand, she has now lost her home and finds herself living in a shelter. Approximately thirty-five families from various parts of the community are in the same situation as Claudia and Nora. They have yet to find out to what extent their lives will be changed by this disaster, and where their new homes will be.

The Rock of Salvation Mennonite Church, which is located in the community, has opened its doors as a temporary shelter for around seventy people whose homes where destroyed or were found to be in high risk areas after the storm. The work is being coordinated by the church’s women’s society, which Fialiley Ruano, Gladys, and Connie de Veliz are all members of. These three women are in charge of organizing and working together to attend to the needs of the families.

The rainy season has started strong in Guatemala. The first tropical storm of the year has devastated the country, causing approximately 156 deaths and more than 150,000 people affected throughout various parts of the country, many of whom are currently in temporary shelters. MCC hopes to respond to this disaster through material humanitarian aid for 800 families in various areas where local MCC partners are located, specifically in the departments of Guatemala, Sololá and San Marcos. The work will be coordinated between the Mennonite Church and Caritas of Guatemala.

the school in Panabaj was again filled with mud, making the construction of a retaining wall even more important

canal that runs through Panabaj during the rains

canal after the rains

road to San Pedro

road to Santiago, near Ana's house

destruction in San Antonio Polopó, community near Panajachel that suffered a lot of damage


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