By: Dunia Orellana & Dennis Arita
Traducción: Telma Quiroz
Thousands of anguished people are waiting at this hour on the boulevard from San Pedro Sula to El Progreso for their families to escape the fury of the waters unleashed by the Eta storm in the Sula Valley.
It is one o’clock in the afternoon on November 5th. The flooding in La Lima began early the day before, but in these colonies several kilometers from downtown Lima, no one expected the waters to reach the level they have now.
“It didn’t happen in Mitch and it’s not going to happen this time,” said the neighbors, but the flood surprised them at five in the morning. In less than an hour, the water covered the houses. People on the street suspect that the unannounced discharges from the Francisco Morazán Dam are the real explanation for such a sudden flood. “This is because of the discharges in El Cajón,” says an outraged neighbor who has not heard from his family in La Lima. There is no way to go to that city. “It didn’t cost them anything to warn people to evacuate,” he adds.
A new two- to four-meter crescent is expected tonight because of water coming down from the mountains. ‘‘The people have to evacuate’’, President Juan Orlando Hernandez said on a national channel, although the inhabitants of the flooded settlements claim that “the water from the mountain” is actually water from the El Cajon dam’s discharges. The governor asks for evacuation, but does not give equipment or solutions to carry out the evacuations that he demands in his television presentation.
The women cry on the road as they wait for the boats and huge trucks that enter the Jerusalem, Planeta, Céleo Gonzales and Independencia neighborhoods. They are the wives, mothers and daughters of people who have been trapped on the second floors of the houses or on the roofs of zinc sheets. There are also men who are screaming for vehicles to enter the settlements where their relatives live who have been left at the mercy of the waters. “Vayan a la Buenos Aires”, “!Saquen a mis papás de La Planeta¡”, “Mi familia está en La Lima”, they all exclaim at the same time.
The people who come walking down the boulevard carry the few belongings they have been able to rescue. They drag bicycles and even dogs into plastic barrels. Very few wear a mask. They seem to have forgotten about the coronavirus.
The huge vehicles and boats, some driven by oars and others by engines, make their way through the strong water current that begins in front of the Jerusalem colony. At that point the water on the road reaches a little below the waist. The force of the current is so great that it can easily carry a woman or a child. Further on, the water level on the road rises and reaches almost to the breast.
Things get complicated on the sides of the boulevard, where in the settlements located at a lower level than the road, you can only see the roofs of the houses coming out of the dirty, raging water. In a logging yard, the barracks float on the dark water and hit the wire mesh fence. In a factory, hundreds of freezers sway in the current and crash into each other.
The truck we get into cuts through the water. “Put those journalists down! The truck is only for rescues,” claim the men standing next to the truck. They are talking about us. They have seen our camera and don’t like us taking up space for the victims. “If you want, we’ll get out,” we say, but the owner of the truck tells us not to listen to them. “We want them to see us in the media,” says one of the rescuers jokingly as he lights a cigarette.
Sunken with the water up to the waist, the police and military take by the arm the victims who leave their homes behind to preserve their lives.
“Chiva con la cabeza,” shouts the rescuers climbing onto the truck as we pass under the branches of the trees planted in the median of the boulevard. A policeman accompanies the group of rescuers. Some of them are neighbors from the flooded neighborhoods who volunteer.
We reach the destination of the rescuers. The victims are standing in the middle of the boulevard. They are nervous. Some women cannot control their crying. They carry their children by the hand as they get into the truck. “Get in order,” the rescuers demand. They descend two metal stairs and people begin to climb into the truck, where rescuers place them in order to take advantage of the space. The rescued people have everything in their hands: bird cages, dogs with their leashes, chickens, clothes in bags. Most of them walk around with only the clothes they are wearing.
The return trip through the water that is tumbling down the street is a relief for everyone. They have escaped death by a hair’s breadth, but behind them are at least a hundred thousand people trapped in their homes. The Sula Valley is a huge water trap in which thousands of families continue to suffer at night, without electricity, without being able to communicate with their loved ones or with rescue agencies.
In the midst of so many tragedies, there is space for hope. The victims approach to some cars where are given food, water and clothing. They even gave us chicken rice dishes. This night will be long. At night, the National Electric Power Company announced in a statement a new discharge of water from the Francisco Morazán dam for five in the morning on Friday, November 6. We hope that the dawn of tomorrow does not bring us more tragedies.
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