The best thing to do during a tropical storm is retreat within the shelter of your home and wait it out while hoping it doesn’t become flooded with water or mud.
That’s what thousands of people in Oaxaca have had to do, twice so far this month, when tropical storms Beatriz and then Calvin hit the state in a period of 13 days.
More than 100,000 people, most of them living in the mountain towns strewn throughout the southern sierra region, have been affected.
By the time the second weather event struck earlier this week, shelters in 113 towns were already full and the main highways, including those between Pinotepa Nacional and Puerto Escondido, Miahuatlán and Huatulco, Oaxaca and Tehuantepec and Salina Cruz and Huatulco, were blocked in countless places by tonnes of mud and fallen trees.
One of the towns affected was Santa María Ozolotepec, where 90% of all the houses are built with adobe bricks, and six out of every 10 was damaged in some way.
“It started raining on Thursday. I put coffee and sugar in my bag, covered myself with plastic and went to my cousin’s brick house. I returned two days later, after the wind and the rain ended. All the streets were destroyed, and my kitchen was buried in mud,” Isadora Sánchez told the newspaper Milenio.
A widow for four years now, Sánchez lives in Santa María by herself. Her sons and daughters have all migrated to the city of Oaxaca.
“The rain destroyed all my belongings, it took away my anafre [a portable metal stove], my comal, my table and my pots. What am I going to do now that my husband is no longer with me? I’ve lost everything,” she cried as a team of soldiers removed the mud from her home.
Internet and mobile connectivity in Santa María are down and, as in many other communities in the mountains, the power has been out for a fortnight, since the rains started.
The only road into town was blocked all month until Wednesday, when soldiers cleared the way in and arrived with food.
“In 20 years we have never seen anything like this. We were afraid. My family and I got into the kitchen, the safest area. We heard trees and utility poles falling. I heard a loud crack and peered out to discover that the wind had torn the roof off my house,” said Esteban Jiménez, 55.
“We live on a hill. When the land gets wet it slides away. [But] We had no fatalities because people went to safe places,” said another resident.
The only economic activity in Santa María is farming, but for 15 days no one has worked the land due to damage to the dirt roads in the deeper parts of the sierra, and for fear of leaving their families alone.
The Army remains deployed in the state to carry out disaster relief efforts but constant rain and fog have hindered their efforts and their movements by land or by air.
So far, 168 people have been relocated from high-risk areas, 4,580 cubic meters of mud have been removed from roads, and another 10,000 cubic meters from homes.
Source: Milenio (sp)