Monday, September 13, 2010

In the Thick of It: experiencing the latest mudslides in San Antonio Palopo, Lake Atitlan, by Thomas Zieffle

Thomas Zeiffle is a Canadian from Alberta who, several years ago, travelled to San Antonio Palopó on beautiful Lake Atitlán in Guatemala. Thomas married a lovely Mayan woman named Francisca and has become a Friend of ICO. In this capacity he has been coordinating the relief funds we have sent down, working with the local municipal government and other community members. He has updated us regularly on the situation.

 Well, folks, I guess it has started again. At about 1:30 AM (Saturday morning) of the 7th of September, I heard and then watched the slide that roared through the centre of San Antonio Palopo. When people talk about hearing a freight train, it is actually quite accurate. Just add in the resounding crack of  huge rocks colliding and you have it.  This was the culmination of over 18 hours of steady rain; sometimes hard downpour or medium to hard rain.  This, of course was on top of the already saturated land from the months of almost steady rain before. At about 10:00 PM, announcements from the municipality officials warned people to get to safe places:  the church and the community market were suggested. Some small indicators of an imminent slide were noticed up the mountain, mostly small mud movement and the odd rock being dislodged. So, out we went. Francisca chose to go to the market, and then the church. I went to her mother's place behind the church, a little house I fixed up quite comfortably. Over the next several hours, we heard slides which were of little consequence as they were on established slide areas.  At about 1:35 in the morning, I was watching the mountain side, a little tough to do in the dark, when I heard the cracking and rumbling of a major slide.  By training our flashlight on the sound, we could see the spume rising as it came crashing down.  Naturally, I was QUITE interested as it was obviously close to our house, but we couldn't tell for sure. Then, the sparks and flashes as the power line was destroyed confirmed that we had trouble again.
In the morning at about 5:15 I went to check our house. It was with care that I went as there were on-going reports of more potential movement on the mountain. I think I may have been the first across the slide area as it crossed the main street, and it was treacherous. There was no pathway and lots of spots where one could sink up to one’s hips. As I passed over, I saw the levels of the destruction - again: enormous tree trunks, rocks the size of cars, and a lake of mud.  It anything was in the direct path, it disappeared.

I finally got out of the mud and continued on to our house. In front was mud and water about a foot deep, but no damage. What a relief! After checking that no one had been in the house, as looters had been reported, I returned. As I was passing, I heard my friend Alyse sobbing and almost howling over the loss of his house and livelihood. He is young, about 35 years old, and now has nothing; just a family to care for with no house nor any means of earning a living.  It was heartbreaking. With the advance warning, there were no deaths directly related to the slide. One man was buried in the slide but lived. However, after being rescued, he suffered a massive heart attack and passed away. For those of you who know some people here, the man was uncle to Rosario Sicajan Xoc (Santo's wife).

Well, that is about it. It took until yesterday (Friday the 10th at noon) to get power back into the house. We only lost about 5 pounds of meat as well as much of the fruit that Francisca bought to sell in her tienda.  All in all, we came through quite well.  

If you can help the people of San Antonio, please donate via at this LINK.
Click here for information on ICO San Antonio Palopó Community
Click here for information on ICO Santa Catarina Community

Registered Canadian Charity BN/Registration Number: 871126249RR0001
Thanks again to Mike Butler for use of his image at top.  

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