Hospitalito Atitlán

Hurricane Stan in Atitlán, 2005

On October 4, 2005, after days of relentless rain from hurricane Stan, there were several landslides that destroyed the canton of Panabaj and did damage in Panaj, causing a disaster where more than 1000 people died. Here are the notes that we made at the time. Each of the following articles was written by a different person, to provide different perspectives on the event.

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Santiago Atitlan, Landslide in Panabaj, Oct 4 2005

PanabajThe Santiago Atitlan disaster has affected everyone here, as there are thousands of displaced people who lost everything. We are currently recomending that any monetary aid be funneled through http://www.puebloapueblo.org. This is the fundraising arm for Kaslimaal, the comitee to rebuild the Hospitalito Atitlan, and they are the most direct route. Earmark the funds for the disaster funds.

SANTIAGO ATITLAN - Days after several mudslides from volcano Toliman washed away populated areas of Santiago Atitlan, expressions of grief and despair are engrained in the faces of the people. Many cry open on the streets in center of town as they are waiting to identify their loved ones. Every now and then a vehicle arrives with bodies that have been recovered from the mud. They are carried into the municipal building for a quick identification before they are placed in roughly hewn wooden caskets. Men, with faces covered by protective masks, carry the coffins on their shoulders up the long hill for mass funerals at the cemetery RefugeesSeventy-two hours after the first mudslide hit this Maya Tzutujiil town of 37,000 inhabitants in the early morning of October 5th the death count is 71, but the death toll is bound to rise as the mud lies several hundred feet wide and fifteen feet deep at places. The first mudslide happened close to the soccer-field. It took houses and people down the steep cliffs and relentlessly continued its path through homesteads, coffee-plantations and cornfields. People were wading through knee-deep mud to retrieve what still could be saved. Panabaj, a village a couple of kilometers south of the center of Santiago Atitlan, was in the path of the biggest mudslide. The landscape invoked eerie feelings as the debris from the volcano mudfieldreplaced all familiar features. The roads are covered with mud. People are using wooden posts, sheet metal and whatever is at hand to build emporary walkways in order to avoid wading through the mud that at places is chest-deep. Right after the slide, people moved slowly forward by holding on to ropes. Telephone posts are broken and cracked, a two-story rock-house is not to be seen anymore, the simple houses have been washed refugeesaway or in the lucky cases, are still standing but full of mud. Instead, the landscape is transformed into a flat vastness of mud, sand and water. . Huge boulders and tree trunks have rolled off the volcano and once the water recedes, the clean-up process will be immense. The earth smell of death, of decomposing bodies, not yet retrieved. Several thousand of local men are digging through the mud, looking for bodies, but the work is overwhelming with only a hoe and a spade at hand. A compound, with 14 family members that laid in path of the mudslide, is eliminated; here a widow died along with her ten children, one grand-child, her brother, his wife and their child. The only trace left is some cooking utensils and a chest with the traditional clothes. Desperate relatives have been waiting for days for their bodies to be found. In other cases, families have been decimated with half its members gone, young children have lost their parents. The caskets come in all sizes.

 
 

The ones that only lost their homes consider themselves lucky. Juan Tacaxoy is a volunteer fire fighter from Panabaj. He woke up around midnight as a two-meter deep river of mud came towards his home.
"I stared to scream to by brothers," he recalls, but they could do little as the house was surrounded by mud. "About ten minutes later came the water and sand, and a little later the rocks and tree trunks."
He never had time to get scared, as adrenaline pumped in his body. He was among the lucky ones. Although his house is gone, all 30 members in his family compound survived. "It was a miracle, but the children are traumatized," said Juan Tacaxoy. A fellow fire-fighter encourages him to sing to his children, to hold them and laugh with them. He has moved his family to one of 15 shelters that have been put up in schools, churches and government building in the center of Santiago Atitlan.Refugees Panabaj,meanwhile, is a ghost town. The population has been evacuated by boats, as the roads were impassible for the first days. Some men have stayed behind to look after the remainder of their belongings as looters are quick to move into the empty homes. In town, soup-kitchens are feeding the homeless and help has poured into the neighboring towns of San Pedro la Laguna, San Lucas Tolimn and Solola. The government is still to show its presence. "The people are crying. We are cooking for children with no shoes. In some cases the fathers and mothers of a family have totally disappeared," said Betty Sojuel, who usually is the head of one of Santiago's two banks.panabaj But as the bank remains closed, she takes part of the town's effort to help its most destitute people. People are in desperate need of food and clothes. As many of the roads are down in Guatemala, and Santiago Atitln was cut off from the outside world for several days, food and medicine are scarce. Several shops are closed as supplies are dwindling and the mayor of Santiago Atitln, Diego Esquina Mendoza, asked the pharmacies to remain open. Gasoline is running scarce and every now and then a shipment comes in from across the lake. The municipality of Sanitago Atitln is looking for outside help to rebuild the homes of a people that had little to begin with, but now has lost everything.casas "We need machinery to clean up the area. We are asking foreign institutions to help us buy a tractor," said Diego Chichom, acting mayor of Sanitago Atitlan. "We need money to build the village again. We need money for buying land to the people." The hospital in Panabaj is closed for now as mud stands high along its walls and all access roads are down. Instead all medical staff is busy around the clock at the Centro de Salud in the town center. funeral Some patients have been transferred to the National Hospital in Solola. The local people are pouring out their support - cooking, digging, sharing their homes and their clothes with their less fortunate fellow villagers. It will take a long time for the town to recover and for life the get back to normal. "All of us have to share the pain," said Diego Esquina. By KARIN GEZELIUS BERGSTRESSER The Photos on this page are from October 7, 2005

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