These Things Come In Threes

They say things come in threes: A volcano erupts. A hurricane descends. A sink hole opens.

When Volcan de Pacaya exploded in Guatemala on Thursday 28th May a state of emergency was declared across the country’s capital, Guatemala City. Residents ran for cover and prayed that the disaster would soon end…but it just kept getting worse.

Exactly 12 months ago to the day of the eruption, my brother and I toasted marshmallows at the top of Pacaya. My sister took photos of the electric orange lava as it flowed down the volcano. And my dad struggled to comprehend that we were actually staring into a river of lava.

One year on, it’s a different story.

The blizzard of rocks and debris that rained over Guatemala’s capital turned everything black. A thick layer of volcanic ash coated streets, cars and houses. And if you held your hand out of an open window the black sand poured into your palm as if it was falling from the sky.

Forced to Flee

A television journalist was killed as he attempted to report on the eruption, hundreds of others were forced to flee their homes and the country’s main airport was closed.

But before the rescue operation could begin, the first named storm of the Pacific hurricane season, Hurricane Agatha, swept across Central America from the Pacific Ocean blowing the plumes of ash in every direction and spreading the chaos further around.

Over One Hundred Dead

The relentless storm battered the country and because so much ash had collected in the drains, there was nowhere for the water to go. Many areas of Guatemala became shut off by rising flood water and officials say that over 112,000 people had to be evacuated from their houses. Families who were struggling to save their homes from the aftermath of Pacaya’s offerings lost their fight as mudslides covered their land and devastated whole towns. Over one hundred people died and thousands are still living in temporary accommodation.

Three weeks later, and while Hurricane Agatha’s moved on, the devastation she caused lurks ominously around. In Guatemala City, piles of black volcanic ash litter the streets waiting to be collected and in Zone 2 a giant sink hole has opened up – swallowing an entire 3-storey building.

Why is it always the poor that suffer the most? Too often catastrophes strike the least developed countries where inhabitants live in poverty and the authorities are ill-equipped to handle such crises.

Failed crops and polluted rivers will ensure that this week of devastation will live on with the people of Guatemala for a long time to come.


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