WENATCHEE, WASHINGTON November 1998
Itís always easy to think how lucky people are who survive a disaster. Sure, theyíre lucky to be alive; they lost their houses and their household possessions, their farms were washed away or covered with mud, they lost their jobs, sometimes they lost part of their families, but theyíre lucky. Arenít they?
Once the relief and wonder of having survived is over, the problem of how to continue becomes uppermost. How do you get a house back? How do you revive a farm? How do you pull yourself up by your bootstaps when you never had any boots?
When we took the batteries out of our flashlights so we could get the news on the radio at the time of Hurricane Mitch, we heard of the disaster at Cerro Casita. It was said that an avalanche had come down in the night and buried 500 people. A terrible thing.
At first there was some question of what had really happened there. It was later that the world learned that the volcano crater had filled with water after five days of incessant, unbelievably heavy rain, and in the night the sides of the crater had collapsed, sending down avalanches of water, mud and rocks to cover five little communities down on the skirts of that mountain.
Neighbors reported they could hear the cries of the buried people, whole families in their houses in some cases. The digging out was frantic, but by the time they reached the bodies there were no survivors. The name Posoltega has become synonymous with horror.
It was two or three days later when it was said that maybe 2000 people had been buried alive. 2000? Yes, 2000. The number was questioned. Could it really be that many?
Pictures of men, their faces covered to help keep out the smell, as they dug out bodies made their way to the newspapers and television. A reported 359 bodies had been recovered and incinerated or buried.
Drowned bodies found in the creeks that had been raging rivers for two or three days were hard to identify because carrion birds, dogs and pigs had been eating them. They were buried unidentified. Bodies of drowned cows, horses and other animals helped contaminate the water in the area and needed to be burned.
On November 12, Univision News some men in Posoltega with the body of a man they had dug out of the avalanche, stiff but still alive. How could he have lived that long buried in mud?
In Posoltega, to prevent the spread of disease, they incinerate the dug-out bodies as rapidly as they can, using gasoline and tree branches for fuel. Even so, the cadavers arenít totally incinerated and dogs, coyotes and pigs reportedly forage for meat among what is left. Last week they had incinerated 1,081 bodies. They are still digging.
This week people have been asked not to eat pork for fear the meat will be diseased from the rotting bodies the pigs have been eating.
Can you imagine what this must be like for these people? Not only the people who lost family members, sometimes as many as 35 in one extended family, but the people who are digging out bodies must be suffering a real hell.
The people who lost their homes and wonít have a decent home for a long time to come; the coffee-growing hillsides, the fields that had been growing corn, soy beans, wheat and peanuts that have been washed out will be a long time recovering. The loss of roads, highways and bridges is tragic because people need to get supplies, and then people need to move back and forth from farm to city to sell their products and to work at jobs to feed their families.
This evening, November 25, 1998, I heard on C-SPAN that Nicaragua is giving a penny-by-penny report of all the money that has been donated to the country. This is a wonderful thing, and very unusual when it comes to disaster relief. If you want to help Nicaragua, and I hope you will if you can, you wonít have to worry that the money is being sent down the wrong channels.
Sincerely, Elaine Lackey November 25, 1998
Wenatchee, WA 98801
On to 1999 letters.
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