Community struggles with loss after deadly storm
June 2, 2010
[Top] CFCA staff assess the damage in the path
of a mudslide in San Antonio Palopo, Guatemala.
[Above] Agustin Calabay, father of a
CFCA-sponsored child, sits next to his home.
SAN ANTONIO PALOPO, Guatemala — Under clear blue skies, families in San Antonio Palopo, Guatemala, are still struggling with the result of Tropical Storm Agatha, which devastated the small town at the base of mountains four days ago.
Saturday evening, mud, rocks and trees from mudslides destroyed 26 homes and claimed the lives of 18 people, including CFCA sponsored children.
CFCA staff members are assisting communities and assessing damage in Guatemala, and also in El Salvador and Honduras where the storm also hit. At the time of this news post, seven CFCA-sponsored children have been reported dead from the mudslides. One child is listed as missing. When the total number of storm-related deaths is gathered, CFCA will release the names of the victims after their sponsors have been notified.
Since the storm, the San Antonio Palopo community continues to search for missing loved ones and any belongings they may be able to recover, digging through mud and debris with nothing but their bare hands and small tools.
“Everyone here is struggling to come to terms with what has happened,” Dan Pearson, CFCA’s director of international operations, said. Pearson was in Guatemala when the storm struck and is assisting with relief efforts.
“The reality is slowly setting in that many lives have been changed dramatically. The focus right now is on searching for the missing, caring for the most basic needs of the displaced and assessing the overall damage,” Pearson said.
According to CFCA staff reports, as many as 32 homes are in a high-risk area and could collapse at any time. Many families are seeking shelter with relatives, in churches or in the local CFCA office.
CFCA's Guatemala communications liaison Luis Cocón visited the area Tuesday with Pearson. Cocón said that many families were eating dinner at the time of the storm and lost everything “in the blink of an eye.”
“A lot of people cannot make a living anymore,” Cocón said. “Mothers who weave lost their weaving materials, fathers that fish lost their little canoes, and day laborers cannot work because they lost their tools. Children have been left orphans. Entire families lost their lives, beds, clothes and everything.”
Staff members from the CFCA San Antonio Palopo subproject are providing support for the 505 sponsored children and 41 aging members living in the mountainous area along Lake Atitlan. The CFCA San Antonio Palopo subproject serves seven communities, including the town of San Antonio Palopo, the hardest hit of the communities.
“Yesterday, we did not feel like eating,” said Antonio Perez, CFCA San Antonio Palopo staff member. “There is a lot of pain and tears.”
A father of one sponsored boy who died recounted the events of the night of the storm:
“We were all together at home. There was a lot of rain. The water always comes through here, but this time it was too much. By the time we realized it, our home was swept away. My boy and I ran one way and my wife and my girl ran the other way. We went to my father-in-law’s where we thought we would be safe.
“[My son] was in that home when all of a sudden there was a big crack and when I turned, my father-in-law’s home was gone, too. I searched and I found my wife and my daughter, but I could not find [my son]. He did not make it. They found his body at the door with debris on his head. He was dead. We buried him on Sunday.
“I don’t know where to start over again. My hope is to support my wife and my little girl. I need to work hard and continue life.”
“Several of the people we have visited expressed their gratitude for what the sponsors have done for them,” Pearson said, “and for the knowledge that they are not alone in all of this.”
Help address the needs of sponsored members and their families following natural disasters and other emergencies. Donations support relief and recovery efforts following earthquakes, hurricanes, volcanic eruptions, typhoons, fires, floods and mudslides. Funds are used where they are most needed, as determined by CFCA and project staffs. Learn more »