Remains of a house in Unión Hidalgo, Oaxaca. Remains of a house in Unión Hidalgo, Oaxaca.

In Oaxaca, anxiety and a shortage of tarps

Fearful of more aftershocks people in the Isthmus are sleeping outside in the rain

In the region of Oaxaca that bore the brunt of the damage caused by the September 7 earthquake, thousands of families now living in the streets are not only confronted by the constant fear of another big shock but also by a lack of shelter to protect them from the elements.


Fifty-thousand families are sleeping outside across the Isthmus of Tehuantepec region either because they lost their homes completely or out of fear that another strong quake could bring their already damaged homes to the ground.

And 14,000 of those families lack adequate protection from the rain because they haven’t been able to get their hands on a tarp.

Both the federal and state governments have conceded that in the aftermath of the quake, the demand for tarpaulins has completely exhausted their supplies.

Some help is on the way from Oaxaca city from a man with family in Tehuantepec who has gathered a truck load of donated tarps. He was scheduled to deliver them today but the volume of donations was so great he had to find a bigger truck. It is expected to make the trip tomorrow.

Staying dry is one challenge and staying calm is another.

Almost 5,000 aftershocks have been recorded since the 8.2-magnitude quake and a new 6.1 tremor on Saturday morning that killed three people in Oaxaca and caused more damage has further heightened already high levels of anxiety among people in the region.


The mayor of Unión Hidalgo, an isthmus town close to the epicenter of Saturday’s earthquake, called for more help from the federal and state governments, saying there are signs that the psychological toll on people is becoming too much to bear.

“If it doesn’t stop shaking, I don’t know what is going to happen and what we are going to do, our people live in that anxiety . . . . We live in constant fear. And we are very, very afraid . . . because never in history have we had so many aftershocks,” Wilson Sánchez said.

One local woman said that since the September 7 quake, she has only managed an hour of sleep per night because of the fear.

“Unfortunately, I’m ill from my nerves, as soon as [the earth] starts shaking, I start shaking too. I don’t sleep, it makes the night seem never-ending for me,” Olivia Orozco said.

Out of fear that the walls of her home could collapse, she moved her family into a makeshift tent on the sidewalk in front of the house, where their lives are now crammed into a two-meter by one-meter space.

Another Unión Hidalgo resident, Jorge López, said that the local people known as Istmeños are starting to get used to a new reality of almost permanent seismic activity, but for many it is likely that recovery from the trauma suffered will be a long and arduous journey.

At least 49,000 people have been treated for post-traumatic stress disorders with symptoms including insomnia, loss of appetite and fear, the Health Secretariat said.

Many Istmeños have decided that the best way for them to recover from the tragedy is to leave the isthmus and find a new, safer place to call home but in doing so they have had to abandon their traditional livelihoods working on the land, fishing or making arts and crafts.

Source: Milenio (sp)

Stories from our archives that you might enjoy