Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Hurricane Mitch: Part III

Returning to the zone with relief workers

I went back to Chinandega with the next group of relief workers leaving Managua. It was a mixed group from the Mexican, Costa Rican and Nicaraguan Red Cross organisations. By this time international aid was coming to Nicaragua from many countries in forms of personnel, and monetary and material aid.

The road was in slightly better condition this time and people were busy building larger bridges and repairing the worst damaged sections of pavement. There were still large line ups and again we passed them by with people calling out in solidarity. This time I noticed dead animals off to the side and in some places, a horrible smell of decay.

After unloading we spent the night sleeping on tables in the garage of the Chinandega Red Cross. The next day we travelled out to bring aid to the communities located along the volcano that had been isolated by the mudslides. We drove through canyons, at times 10 meters deep, which had not existed weeks beforehand. They had been carved out by the force of water crashing down the mountain. The sun beat down on us as we pushed our vehicles when they became trapped in the loose dirt. In places we could see black oily smoke rising into the sky. The burning teams were out searching for bodies.

We came across a group of people that had left their village and come down in search of food. We left them supplies and took information about the numbers left alive and dead. We then continued farther up the volcano to the next community. A distribution centre was set up at one house and food, water, and clothes were delivered by a number of groups and organisations. People were on hand to give medical aid and immunizations were distributed.

We walked down the road that once had lead to a nearby village. I noticed how beautiful the countryside was; its greenness stretching above me and far down below. The road passed through trees and then they stopped. There were no trees. There was no road. There was nothing but mud as far as I could see. There was one house, set into the trees - untouched. A few meters over, nothing was left. Walking out on the mud I could find a shoe or a roofing tile if I looked closely, but other than that, there was no sign that people had been living there.

One side of the volcano had crashed down destroying everything in its path. The mud went on for kilometres. People who saw it happen said it had come like a wave and crashed over top of the houses.

When I returned to Managua, foreign interest in Nicaragua had dropped off. The news was no longer spectacular. Now it was simply hundreds of thousands of people trying to rebuild in the face of disease and hunger. There was not much left for me to do in the office.

Leaving the Red Cross

I decided to walk home after my last day at the Red Cross office. It was a beautiful afternoon and I was feeling good about myself and the work I had done. Suddenly a pain burst through my body and I found myself on my knees unable to breathe. Someone had whipped a corn cob at me from a passing bus and its end had smashed into my ribs. For the following month it was difficult for me to take a deep breath. Someone saw a rich gringo walking through the wrong part of the city and released their anger.

What it did was remind me what I had forgotten in the face of the disaster and popular mobilisation to help those in need: Nicaragua is a poor country where many people lack even the most basic necessities and with this poverty comes the problems and social resentment that it creates. Life is difficult in Nicaragua, and for many in the wake of the hurricane, it will be much harder.

Bluefields, December, 1998

1 comment:

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