During our week we took one whole day to tour the Hurricane Agatha damage.
Agatha? Remember her? Twenty inches of rain in four days. About half of what we get in Texas in an entire year. The sinkhole that swallowed a three story building. The first hurricane of the season hit Guatemala on May 29.
Agatha brought torrential rains and mudslides, swelled the river out of its banks and left 100 people dead and whole communities left without homes. And this was only a couple of days after a volcano erupted. Can’t this country ever catch a break? They’re kind of the Louisiana of Central America. When the storm created so much damage we worried if our visit would be too much trouble given the challenges they faced recovering from Agatha. But they told us to come anyway then they choreographed our visit to avoid the washed out roads
So we all loaded up into a van and drove around to see what the tormenta had done. That was an easy enough word to translate from Spanish, wasn't it?
We started out tracing the water’s path when it left the river banks. We saw the water mark high on the walls of the town’s buildings. We saw the brick and concrete walls knocked down by the water’s force. We were getting the picture of how strong the river became with so much water. But it wasn’t until we reached the river that our mouths fell open.
Mind you, we were there two months after the rains. But the Montagua River was still roiling fast and furious. It had already torn open sewer systems and water supplies. The river was brown from mud, sewage, and God knows what else. We reached a bridge that had been washed out.
I have two videos of our visit to the bridge but I can't get the best one to load. Let me describe what you'll seeing. The section at the edge of the bridge had collapsed. The only thing still in its original position was a curb that was about eight inches across but forty feet in the air and you had to walk the curb for about 15 feet then hop over a gap in the road before you reached solid concrete. The rest of the bridge is OK. So if you can just get past about fifty feet of the collapsed part you could make it to the other side of the river. It was kind of like walking a tightrope. But it was the only connection folks had to what was on the other side of the river. Consequently, they were climbing, balancing and jumping over the gaps to get onto the bridge. We even saw one guy do this on his bicycle.
Linda and I had the most trouble getting across this tricky part because, honestly- (speaking for myself) my sense of balance is not what it used to be and I didn’t want to mess around 40 feet in the air over a raging river. I love Jesus and all that but I’m just not that ready to meet Him yet. I've got a few things to cross off my To Do list first. Sergio Ramirez will forever be my hero for helping me cross safely with dignity and gentleness.
But it wasn’t necessarily the damage that was so amazing. It was what the people were doing to take care of themselves in the absence of government help. The bridge had connected two towns. Its absence had left people without a way to get to the other town.
A group of men had set up what you might call a ferry across the river but the water was so fast that it was more like the raft ride from hell. The guys kept it tied with rope attached to both sides of the river. The idea is to board the raft on one side, let the river carry the raft to a certain spot jutting out until the guys on the other side can pull you in by rope to the other side of the river. That’s the theory. Just when we got there to watch we saw a couple of drenched women who had fallen off the raft and the guys had to jump in the water and rescue them. By the time we got there they had been saved and just climbed back out of the river drenching wet and set off down the road. Bystanders were impressed at this new industry, the raft. Ten guys had formed the group, taking shifts working and dividing the money up at the end of the day.
Then we went to another washed out bridge where the men were repairing it themselves instead of waiting for the government to do it. I can’t imagine how they thought they could do it themselves. They had no equipment and it was a huge suspension bridge. But they were doing what they could. They had no choice.
Bad water, too much water, too much bad water.
Next week: Miscellaneous things of interest and tree hugging.