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Hurricane Stan and Its Aftermath
A visit to Panabaj, Guatemala two years later
Joan Dawson (joanied40)     Print Article 
Published 2007-10-05 13:56 (KST)   
Hurricane Stan's aftermath
©2007 Joan Dawson
Two years ago, Hurricane Stan walloped Central America and southern Mexico, leaving death and destruction in its wake. In the region near Lake Atitlan, Guatemala, Hurricane Stan became a tropical storm and its forceful rain teemed down for five days.

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This heavy rain mixed with the soft earth and gravity sent it roaring down the side of the volcano. It wiped out approximately 700 homes, destroyed people셲 livelihoods and claimed about 200 of the area셲 beloved family and friends. Two years later, the area still feels the repercussions of Stan.

For those who lost their homes, shelters were built. And people are still living there to this day. Row upon row of housing blocks exists, providing functionality rather than aesthetics. The sight of people and the sound of their voices discussing daily life soften the somber reality.

Homes have thin walls that offer little protection from nature -- an eerie feeling for those who have suffered from its destructive impact. Floors are earthen. Kitchens are communal; they셱e located at the end of each housing block, as are latrines. There are a few small stores peppered about, a couple of mangy dogs soaking up the sun and chickens and roosters squawking here and there. At one end of the shelters is a makeshift clinic. Nearby, unfinished houses sit idly, taunting the community.

After Hurricane Stan, the government began to build houses in the area where people had lost their homes. After starting to build several cinderblock homes, a risk analysis was done and쫟urprise쫋ound the area to be a high-risk zone. So there the unfinished houses have sat. Many people were disheartened and angry by the inefficiency of the government and the delay it signified. People are still waiting for adequate housing, even today. Fortunately, the Vice President of Spain visited this summer and offered to pay for the construction of 900 new homes.

The shelters
©2007 Joan Dawson
Latrines are communal
©2007 Joan Dawson
Along with their houses, many people lost their livelihoods when the mudslide occurred. An organization called ADECCAP (Asociacion de Desarrollo Comunitario del Canton Panbaj) is helping to restore their economic loss. ADECCAP helped fund a rabbit grange that houses what appear to be amply-fed rabbits and they offer colorful beads for artisans to make jewelry and key chains to sell to tourists. ADECCAP, along with Save the Children, have also built and equipped a carpenters workshop. And, they teach literacy and sewing. They hope to start a small pharmacy in the future.

During a delegation that I attended in Guatemala this summer, we also met with a group of Mayans who were feeling defeated about a small factory that used to dry coffee beans. The machinery hasn셳 worked in two years. If they could only get a loan for $37,000, they said, they could get the machine going and start producing coffee. Coffee, they say, that earns them $4.00 for 100 pounds (how much Starbucks coffee is that?)

Machinery to dry coffee beans
©2007 Joan Dawson
A nest has been built in the machine; it hasn't been used in so long
©2007 Joan Dawson
Reconstruction has been a slow process for this Mayan community. In some cases, it has created ill feelings. There is discontent about the housing situation. Some would like to put roofs on the unfinished houses and live there, even though the government threatens court action if they do. Others prefer to be relocated where reconstruction, under the supervision of ADECCAP, has already begun.

ADECCAP has asked the families to clear the land, a task that some find formidable considering they live hand-to-mouth on a daily basis. On the other hand, the catastrophe has also brought some people together -- I attended a marriage ceremony between an Italian woman and a Spanish man who met while volunteering in relief efforts.

Nature is capable of destroying people and property, but not spirits. Spirits can be just as forceful as nature. Humanity is capable of nurturing those spirits and providing them with hope and healing. This is what I hope for the community of Panabaj.

The government stopped construction of houses when it was determined it was a high-risk area
©2007 Joan Dawson
Vice President of Spain Maria Teresa Fernandez de la Vega visits Panabaj
©2007 Joan Dawson
Lake Atitlan
©2007 Joan Dawson
©2007 OhmyNews
Other articles by reporter Joan Dawson

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