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Neighbors Claudia Almanzo and Norha Muralles stand in the devastated area where they used to live before their homes were destroyed by mudslides in late May. MCC, through The Mennonite Church of Guatemala, will support them, along with 40 other families, through construction of temporary housing and with humanitarian aid. (MCC Photo/Antony Sanchez)

Neighbors Claudia Almanzo and Norha Muralles stand in the devastated area where they used to live before their homes were destroyed by mudslides in late May. MCC, through The Mennonite Church of Guatemala, will support them, along with 40 other families, through construction of temporary housing and with humanitarian aid. (MCC Photo/Antony Sanchez)

Mudslides sweep away homes in Guatemala

Antony and Irma Judith Sanchez
July 20, 2010

 

GUATEMALA CITY, Guatemala —  Just a few minutes after Claudia Almanzo, 23, and her two children left their house in Guatemala City, a mudslide swept over their tin-roof, wooden house, completely burying it.
 
“All of our things were buried underneath the landslide,” Almanzo said. “Now our house simply doesn’t exist.”
 
The strong rains caused by tropical storm Agatha during the last weekend in May caused flooding and landslides in Guatemala, especially Guatemala City, but also affected Honduras, Nicaragua and El Salvador. The Associated Press reported that 165 people were killed in Guatemala and18,000 homes destroyed.
 
Complicating the situation in Guatemala was the eruption of a volcano, Pacaya, just days before the tropical storm. The eruption forced 2,000 people to evacuate and shut down the country’s main airport for five days.
 
In response to the disaster, Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) has committed $20,000 in addition to sending two shipping containers of meat, blankets, dried soup mix, relief kits and health kits to Guatemala.
The supplies will be distributed by MCC partners: Caritas of San Marcos, Dioceses of San Marcos, ANADESA (Asociación Nuevo Amanecer de Santiago Atitlan —Association for the New Dawn in Santiago) and the Evangelical Mennonite Church of Guatemala , which includes Rock of Salvation Mennonite Church. The aid will support 800 families, specifically in the departments of Sololá and San Marcos.
 
Plans to address the needs for trauma healing, health and home repair are also under development.
 
After the mudslide, Almanzo and her husband, Estuardo Bernal, 26, and their children found refuge at Rock of Salvation Mennonite Church with about 70 other people. The church had opened its doors as a temporary shelter for those whose homes were destroyed or were living in high risk areas after the storm.
 
Some of MCC’s aid will go to support their family and others who lived near them in a shantytown close to San Juan de Dios, a community in Guatemala City. The shantytown is located on the edge of a canyon where the Las Vacas River runs deep below. 
 
The families’ homes had been built down the sides of the canyon, which is approximately 100 meters deep. The area had been used as a garbage dump, but about seven years ago dozens of families started settling there. The Almanzos moved in five years ago.
 
The construction of the houses has not followed any type of construction regulation, being built piece by piece with wood, tin and cardboard with some retaining walls made of brick or concrete, as the owners are able to find the economic means to buy the materials.
 
In general, families in this community are very poor and many have multiple children. The men work informally at selling on the street or driving buses and taxis, while some have more formal work. Bernal drives taxi more than 12 hours a day. 
 
The women dedicate most of their time to taking care of the home, helping to sustain the family economically by working occasionally for other families doing housework.