Two months after deadly landslide, residents of Alausí fear the town will never be the same
By Garry Vatcher
Foundation Hogar de Esperanza has been visiting Alausí to bring support since the landslide on March 26 that devastated this close-knit community. On the last few trips, we wanted to see how the disaster affected those in the community and hear some of their stories. Alausí is small but bustling town, famous for the Devil’s Nose train and its designation as a “magical town” of Ecuador.
With so many lives lost, many feel this town may never be the same.
Everyone has been affected in one way or another and as you walk through the streets, you can feel the silence and the reverence for those still buried on the mountainside. The disaster area looms over the downtown. There is a lot of pain, trauma and suffering in this community and almost everyone we spoke to said the same thing. They want their loved ones found and given a proper burial, not left on the mountainside.
We met an elderly indigenous woman carrying recycling materials. We tried to speak with her but she had difficulty speaking. All she could do was point to the mountain. She was very representative of the silence that grips this town.
The town arranged for us to meet Maria and her eldest son, Francisco. She and her husband owned a small property on the mountain. There she raised her six children and built a humble home. They had a routine. Every evening she went to a rural community just outside of Alausí and slept in a small shack. At 5 am, she milked cows, then returned home and her husband went to work in construction. She then got her four children, still living at home, ready for school. Francisco and his new bride were starting construction on a home next to his parents. Life was good.
On March 26, her life completely changed. After she arrived at the shack, she heard of the landslide. Her husband, four children and everything she had was gone. Her heart is broken and the trauma and pain she suffers is etched in her face as she wipes the tears from her eyes. The tears are always there. Her and Francisco go every day to the site, hoping, at least they will find the bodies of her family. So far, they have only found one son. She feels so lonely.
All we can do is share her pain and comfort her. All she wants is to find her family. We gave her some financial assistance so she can eat and pay for transportation. It was heart-wrenching to hear her story but she was comforted to know that the expats in Cuenca were there to help her in this difficult time. We promised that we would keep in touch and if there was anything we could do, we would be there for her.
We talked with three men, sitting on a bench, viewing the disaster area which is in plain view of the main street in town. They were not so sure of the risk assessments.
Alausí is their home. They were born here and it is all they know. There is a sense of potential doom but also a sense of pride in their community. They talked about how at the start of the relief efforts, people came from all over-looking for help. They were not people directly affected by the disaster, but they were poor, so needed help. Most of the people directly affected were on the mountainside desperately digging for their loved ones and were oblivious to what was going on below. With the roads cut off and many losing their jobs, the whole region is affected.
We talked with a street food vendor and a teacher. Rosa has been selling on this corner for years. Many of those buried were her customers. She has new customers, the emergency workers, the military, the police officers, and she wonders what will happen when they leave. Some estimate that about 2,500 people have left town looking for somewhere safer to live. Many of those were her customers. She does not have a sense of future here and wants to move to Quito. But she has a small house and a bank loan and doesn’t know how she can leave. This is her home, but the disaster has changed everything for her. Although she trusts what the experts say, things are not the same anymore. There is a hole in her heart that may never heal.
The school teacher told us that the school is now closed. The arena is no longer there. The soccer field is gone. He has lost students and is no longer teaching. He too, trusts the experts, but the pain in the community is great. Everyone enjoyed going to the games, the street vendors would sell food at the games and the community would come together. Now they come together at the disaster center. So many have lost their jobs and he wonders what the economic future of the community will be. They are a resilient people but this disaster has changed them forever. Many people are leaving.
Hogar de Esperanza has made four trips near ground zero in Alausi. With each visit, we bring relief and support from the expat community in Cuenca. The relief effort is well organized and it has been an honor to be a partner with the community in this effort. We are working with the community leaders to respond to specific needs. Making sure all the gaps are filled in.
We cannot all go to Alausi, it would overwhelm them. But at Hogar de Esperanza we are so grateful to be your hands and feet on the ground to help those who are experiencing such a tragic disaster. They will be eternally grateful for the support that the expat community have given them through us. We can only continue our commitment to the people of Alausi with your support.
To make a donation to support the people of Alausí you can do it at: https://foundationhogardeesperanza-bloom.kindful.com/?campaign=1245027 For other donation options, including tax receipt, you can visit our website at: https://hogaresperanza.org/en/donations/
If you would like to help in other ways, you can reach out to us through our email at: firstname.lastname@example.org