Tzu Chi volunteers survey hurricane-wrecked villages in Guatemala

ReliefWeb, Oct 23, 2005

Guatemala City, Guatemala -- Among the six central and southern American nations affected by Hurricane Stan, Guatemala sustained the most severe impact from the storm, stretching across more than 34,000 square km. Local volunteers of the Taiwan Buddhist Tzu Chi Foundation in Guatemala are continuing to survey the massive devastation left by the hurricane and the ensuing heavy rains.

Among the areas covered by Tzu Chi's local relief teams are coastal villages in the San Marcos Province, where access by land or river were completely severed due to damaged roads and bridges, and elevated riverbeds resulting from excessive mudslide sediments.

On Oct. 14, one Tzu Chi team was able to survey two of the villages in San Marcos left isolated by the disaster, La Blanca and Chiquirines, by helicopter. A pre-flight briefing held to review the planned survey sites and route was provided by Guatemala's National Coordinator for Disaster Reduction, CONRED (Coordinadora Nacional para la Reduccion de Desastres).

Normally, the village of Chiquirines is 15 hours by car to the capital city. The Tzu Chi survey team first flew over Santiago Atitlan, Solola in the great lake area, where the devastation was less severe than had been previously reported. They then followed the river Rio Pacaya out to the inlet at the coast. From there, the team was able to reach villages Chiquirines and La Blanca by car.

Volunteers saw extensive destruction left by the surge of the river, especially for residents living along its banks who lost everything. Although running water has been restored in the developed parts of urban areas, most wells in the agricultural regions have become severely polluted, and are in need of further testing.

Immediate needs for food have been met by air drops from CONRED, but with the extensive agricultural damage and the approaching winter, the situation is expected to get worse as the lack of a winter harvest and a food shortage is anticipated.

The lack of medical relief and exposure to tainted flood water for prolonged periods have already caused increasing cases of dysentery, fevers, skin infection, lung disease, and roundworm.

Tzu Chi was introduced to Guatemala in 1998, after hurricane George and Mitch damaged several countries in Central America. A Tzu Chi liaison office was established in 2001. About 1,200 Taiwanese live in Guatemala and around 100 people from this community are also local Tzu Chi volunteers.