This morning we left at 6 AM with 6 of our volunteers to visit the areas most affected by the recent Volcan de Fuego eruption on June 3 rd . The affected area would usually only be a 30-35 minute drive from our facility, but due to the destruction of roads during the eruption it took a little over two hours. First, we traveled to an cluster of small towns that have been cut off since the eruption. We had to cross four small rivers that have formed along the path of the different lava flows. The road that took us through these small streams was a very uneven, making the travel time even longer. We immediately noticed that very few vehicles were on the road, despite the numerous communities along it. When we arrived we were greeted by a contact our volunteers have been working with in the area named Lesbia. She along with and her husband have been doing their best to log and keep track of the various needs of the remaining people in the town. Anyone who was able to leave and relocate has, but there are many elderly or sick still left in the community. In addition to this, things have been complicated because all medical professionals who had worked in the town clinics have also relocated. This has left them without any access to healthcare. Until recently, trucks have not been able to make it to the town to restock stores or bring food and supplies. Now that a few trucks can access the town, some packaged items have gone back into stock; however, the increased demand has caused prices to skyrocket. We walked around town with Lesbia and visited several sick individual and people who had diabetes. We were able to provide the diabetics with refills of their medicine we had brought. Lesbia is going to log the sickest individuals in the area and their medical needs/medications they take, and get the list to us this week. From there we will be able to see how best to help the specific cases and bring the needed medications in future visits.
After leaving the village, we went to San Miguel Los Lotes, the most affected town. Los Lotes is the town you have probably seen pictures of if you have seen any of the jaw-dropping photos on the internet. The town was 100% wiped out and there were very few survivors. They estimate there were thousands of lives lost in this community alone. The town has since been deemed uninhabitable. Upon arrival at the town’s edge the town was a lot further from the volcano than I had imagined. Based on how quickly the ash and destruction arrived it seemed like it should have had to have been closer; thus reminding us once again of the power and danger of the active volcano. Currently, the town is cut off by a police blockade because the area is impassable. Only construction workers working with backhoes to clear the main road traveling through the town as well as a few remaining townspeople still searching with the hopes of finding remains of family members. After talking to the police at the blockade they allowed us half an hour to travel into the town and record what we saw. This was an extremely unique opportunity, and one we frankly didn’t think they would allow us to have. We had to wear masks due to all of the ash being stirred up by the backhoes. Initially, we had to cross another small stream on foot that had formed in the path of the lava. Walking into the village was a surreal experience. We had all seen photos of it, but there is nothing compared to seeing it in person. It was a disaster, with traces of everyone’s day to day lives untouched. The streets would be filled with a story and a half of ash and debris, going well into the second level of houses, and on the terrace of the house there would still be clothes on the line, and toys left from the children who used to play there. Cars had been smashed and lifted several feet in the air and ultimately deposited on piles of rubble and ash. In some areas, houses were filled 2/3 with ash
and in other areas they were covered to the rooves. Many metal roofs had been either smashed by boulders from the volcano or ripped back during the search for bodies and potential survivors in the week after the eruption. It was especially odd to be able to stand outside and look down into the remnants of homes that had only about a foot of ash in them. There were crumpled televisions mixed with toys, clothes, and in one house, unopened bags of sugar. It was difficult to think about how the town would have looked without this ash. The amount of destruction was totally unimaginable. The parts of the roads where the backhoes had been able to remove the ash already held three stories of ash on the sides of the road. It was like the biggest snow pile we had ever seen, except made of ash. The road will continue to be cleared and the town will be left as is. There has been too much damage to have any hope of rebuilding and no one would wish to live there again after this tragedy and based on the location of the town to the volcano. There are thousands of people who have been displaced due to the eruption and the destruction of their homes. There are four governmental shelters that house these people and they also serve as donation centers. Unfortunately, we have heard stories of the corruption in these locations and how donations are not necessarily used as they were intended. For this reason we have been careful to work directly with affected families, and investigate their needs for ourselves. Our goal today was to collect information, and determine the way in which we can best serve as efforts move from relief to reconstruction. Our plan if to partner with two to three families, and assist them as they move from the temporary shelters, to a permanent location. We hope to be able to set these families up with basic housing as they get on their feet. We will continue to give you all updates as we have more information. Those who are interested in donating toward these efforts can follow the links provided.