Hurricane victims survey the damage. Surveying the damage. El universal/ramón romero

Victims of hurricane issue pleas for aid

Homes, businesses damaged in beach towns that took full brunt of the storm

The unpredictability of Hurricane Patricia’s exact path may have spared the highly populated cities of Manzanillo and Puerto Vallarta, but the area between them, known as Costalegre, was hit for at least two hours by the full force of the record-breaking storm.

The main activities of the inhabitants of the Costalegre area are fishing and ecotourism, based in six small beach villages: Arroyo Seco, Melaque, Barra de Navidad, Boca de Iguana, Tenacatita and La Manzanilla.

It was in that last coastal village, located within the Jalisco municipality of La Huerta, that the newspaper El Universal interviewed some of its residents in the aftermath of the Category-5 hurricane.

María de Jesús Pérez is the owner of a small, 12-room hotel right on the beach. The building is still standing but the storm shattered windows and dumped sand, water and debris into the rooms and into her own home.

Until her daughter Rocío Ramírez flew down from California she and a friend had been struggling on their own to clean up the mess.

Yolanda Moreno and her family also travelled to La Manzanilla after Patricia had swept through the area, in their case to find out how their beach house had fared. What they found was disheartening: all the doors and windowpanes were gone, their clothing and household goods were destroyed, as was their kitchen.

Othon Salvador, the owner of several beach bungalows, voiced the discontent of the residents of La Manzanilla in the aftermath: “Navy and Army officials came here early Saturday morning. They cleaned and opened the entrances and the main street of the town, but that was the extent of their aid. The rest we’re paying for ourselves, or doing it with our own hands.”

Conditions are bleak: 11 small hotels were damaged, as were many homes. Walls and palapa roofs were blown down and sand covers everything in sight. Unusable mattresses and even a boat litter the streets.

Moreno concurred with Salvador’s sentiment, adding that “government officials only came here to take a picture and to pledge their help, but the people aren’t receiving anything. [The government] claimed they were prepared; then why are those who are most in need starving?

“There’s no power, no water; a blanket and a few groceries and supplies are worthless if you don’t have a place to cook or to sleep at night.”

Moreno is also worried about structural damage to her home, as the foundations were clearly affected during the hurricane. The floors have risen in places and the underlying ground has sunk. “Someone has to come and tell us if the place is still safe, if the house will fall or not, anything to avoid an accident.”

Ramiro, a father of six, added his complaint: “You can see lots of Civil Protection officials at the crossroads, but they should be here, where we really need them, helping remove the sand, trash and water. We have to fix everything fast so we can get back to business as soon as possible.”

The restaurateurs and hotel owners of La Manzanilla aren’t expecting gifts from the government, even as they estimate that their losses could amount to between 150,000 and 250,000 pesos (US $9,000 to $15,000) each.

What they would like is credit and reasonable payment terms as they have lost the fruit of a decade’s worth of work and investment, and can’t begin to recover if they can’t offer lodgings and services to tourists.

Enrique Macedo was the most severely affected of the restaurant owners: the winds blew down all the walls and destroyed the washrooms. He would like the government to help by providing workers to clear the debris and rebuild. “I don’t have enough money to pay for them myself. I lost everything.”

Source: El Universal (sp)

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