Rainy season can be intense and cruel and last night a particularly strong storm wreaked havoc all over Santa Rosa (the department I live in). I got first wind of problems when I was woken up by a call from our security advisor this morning.
“How’s everything where you are?”
“Fine. My power is out, but I’m sure that’ll get fixed soon.”
“Okay, good. Some crazy stuff happening near you. Last night an entirely new river formed and swept away some homes and people.”
Entire homes swept away.
I contemplated that for a moment and then went about getting ready for the day and eventually headed into the office.
“Did you hear about the storms sweeping people away last night?”
“Yes. Don Manuel had to be evacuated because his house filled with two meters of water.”
Don Manuel used to work in the Muni with us. He’s a sweet older man who helped me a lot during my first few months. I couldn’t think of someone I would want this to happen to less.
A while later my counterpart went through the offices asking for donations to put together a few bags of food and clean water for families affected and then a few of us headed to the Cabecera (department capital) to deliver them. The national police were stationed at the entrances to the city turning cars away so we parked and walked the bags of supplies in. Don Manuel met us, looking exhausted, and led us to the families he wanted to give the food to (yes, his house is full of mud, but he was arranging for food to be brought for other families – he’s a saint).
It was astounding. The water had rushed through the city and taken along with it anything in its path. Mud caked mattresses lay in the street. Clothes and blankets were tangled around street signs. Sheets of lamina were strewn about, bent and warped so that they looked like they just took a tumble in a giant dryer.
People were in the streets attempting to begin to make sense of the incredible amounts of debris and mud in and around their homes. I watched in awe as a family began to pump water out of their home and the small, muddy river drained into what was left of the street outside. But at least they still had homes.
Don Manuel took us behind some homes to what looked like a junkyard. A house had stood there just the day before. He pointed out pieces of wall, the toilet upside down and half buried in mud. I spotted a small elephant toy covered in mud amongst the debris. Before I could ask he answered the question on all of our minds. The mother and two children had been swept away with the rest of their belongings and died.
Floods happen. Earthquakes, tornadoes, hurricanes happen. Everywhere. I know this. But seeing this kind of destruction firsthand is sobering. Maybe better city planning and drainage could have helped the situation and maybe better engineering could have stopped whole houses from being turned into nothing more than rubble but, in the end, sometimes nature is just cruel and unforgiving. It’s just another reminder of things we all know, but sometimes lose sight of, I suppose: Life is precious and we should make an effort to appreciate what we have while we have it. Because it can all be so quickly swept away.