Nature Pummels Guatemala

First the earthquake in February—then the volcanic eruption in May—and now, the deadly tropical storm.  Evacuations, flooding, landslides, injuries, death.  I ask myself, “When is it going to get better for Guatemala?”

At the height of the tropical storm Agatha, I was horrified to learn that our more-than-spunky school administrator, Pedro Sebastian, had traveled to Guatemala City to obtain books for our high school students.  On the bus, people had squeezed in, packing three to a seat.  Others jammed the aisle.  It was a common enough mode of travel for those too poor to afford something more comfortable, but traveling through a tropical storm in gale winds on a flooded highway was not so common.  However, eventually, the bus reached its destination.  Whether it was due to the driver, heroic in his own right, who had successfully manipulated mudslides, inched the bus over hazardous bridges and steadied it in the high winds, or due to the very noticeable cross that hung from the rearview mirror, passengers were left to decide.

At 5:00 p.m. the same day, Pedro called me to say he had collected the books he’d come for and was now getting ready to board a return bus bound for Huehuetenango.  Of course, I thought he was joking!  It would mean a night journey in the torrential downpour on the now even more dangerous highway.  The trip would take him through Chimaltenango, the region worst hit by the storm. Landslides had buried entire communities there and dozens of people had been reported dead. “Please don’t go now,” I implored him.  But Pedro, a fatalist, wasn’t going to let a life-threatening storm delay him.  He gave his signature laugh and said, “I have to go, I’ve got work to do.”

From the time he’d left the villages where Adopt-a-Village works, more than 30 inches of rain had drenched the mountainsides.  AAV’s driver told me how the earth, transformed into mud, had slid down and buried sections of road.  Pickup trucks, full of passengers in back, sunk into the muck up to the floorboards.  Others fishtailed wildly, fighting to stay on the road and continue their journey.  I’d had to travel that same road in rain and mud three weeks ago.  I remember the fishtailing and my fright.  It was far worse now.

In all of Central America, Guatemala was most devastated by the storm.  Over 100,000 people have been evacuated from their homes.  The authorities continue to search for bodies.  You can imagine that I am anxious to leave the States to see that all our Mayan friends are safe.  I am worried most about the poorest families, and especially the widows and children we help who tend to live in the remotest areas in the flimsiest structures.  I ask myself, “Will their crude huts still be standing after such a fierce storm?”

Frustratingly, at this time of writing, the Guatemalan airport is still closed as crews continue to clear the cement-like mixture of volcanic ash and water from the airstrip.  However, my hope is to leave on Friday.  I will write again after reaching Guatemala.


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