Wednesday, July 1, 2015

The landslide of march and its aftereffects

Last week I got the chance to go to Chosica again. As mentioned in previous blogs, this is one of the communities where we work. The aim of the visit was to talk to people whose businesses were affected by the landslide and subsequent flooding in March. And this was definitely the most impressing, and at the same time devastating visit so far.

Driving along the road leading out of  Chosica we stopped at this low building standing on a cliff, which looked quite neglected at first sight. Two men were working outside, digging. Abel from Soluciones Prácticas pointed to the side of the building, told me to look down the side of the building. “Look”, he said, “the people here are still living in the tents the municipality gave them right after the landslide in March”. Which was three months ago.

The front of the building, and the destroyed machines

Señor Vladimir Corso, still cleaning up

Tents. People are still living in them

The stories we heard afterwards were as devastating as the living conditions were. A small woman, marked from life, was trying to clean a heavy looking machine. “Everything was destroyed by the landslide”, she said, showing us around the front of the building. Señora Victoria Quispe de Corso had a tire business before the landslide in March, selling and repairing car and truck tires. All the machines she used for this were destroyed or broken by the landslide and flooding in March. She shows us the machines: “it would cost so much to repair these machines, and we just don’t have the money” she explains despaired. Since the landslide end of March her business has been closed, and she has since not been able to reopen it. She had 3 employees, all of which have now lost their job. “Until today I still worry about what my family and I are going to eat, and how we will survive”, she says, choking on her words.

Señora Victoria Quispe de Corso
Señore Victoria showing us her destroyed machines

The biggest problem is that her official business documents were lost in the catastrophe in March. As soon as the street was free again Señora Victoria went to the police to report the loss. She was then told to go to the bank and pay 7 Soles, and with this receipt she would be able to report the loss of her documents. She did that, came back to the police station, where she was then told that it was too late to report the loss, that she couldn’t do so any more. All losses have to be reported latest 48 hours after the loss. This, in her case and many other cases, was just not possible. Firstly because right after the catastrophe the families were concerned about surviving, what they were going to eat and where they were going to sleep. And secondly because the street was blocked by the landslide so they were not even able to get to the municipality. But rules are rules. Therefore, officially her business does not exist anymore as she has no proof of it, and this also means that she won’t get any help from the state to rebuild it. Abel emphasized on how important it was that she got the loss reported. She should go again and again, he said, and insist that the loss gets registered officially. Because without that she has no chance of rebuilding her business and the existence of her family.

These are the only documents she managed to save: a couple of invoices

Right after the catastrophe happened her and her family received some food and water, as well as a couple of mattresses, tents and blankets. But no other help apart from that. “I was so scared after  the landslide, I just didn’t want to live here anymore”, she tells us, and looks away. A couple of minutes later she had composed herself again: “It happened at 3 o’clock in the afternoon”, she remembers. “We were working up here. It came so suddenly. Gracias a Dios I was able to hold onto something when the landslide and the water came, otherwise I would have been carried down to the valley. I don’t want to remember this anymore, it was so terrible”. At this point her daughter comes to her aid, and continues their story.

Shortly after the landslide an official from the municipality came to look at the houses and constructions which had been affected, but since then they haven’t heard anything, she tells us. As they don’t have insurance, nobody else could help them to rebuild the family business. They emptied their savings and borrowed some money, and managed to do the most necessary repairs on the house. But still not everything is done – still part of the family is living in tents. At least they have a functioning kitchen again – quite an important thing with a family of 8. They had to wait for running water until the beginning of May – for working electricity even until June 8. Up to then, everything had to be improvised. At that point, Señor Victoria picks up again: “Gracias a Dios we got helped with water until the water supply started working again”. But, she continues, “Up to now, I am still preoccupied with the surviving of my family”. And at the same time she needs to think of rebuilding her business, to be able to earn money again. “We used to make 1500$-2000$ per month before the landslide”, she tells us. Since March she has had no income what so ever, only expenses. They even took up a loan, but as interest rates on loans are so high here she is finding it very difficult to come up for the interest rates.

Right next to Señora Victoria’s business her husband’s brother had his business, a lubricants business. Señor Vladimir Corso tells us: “Since more than three months we cannot work, and we can’t earn any money”. Standing in the entrance of the garage he shows us how high the water was – it was almost head high! “Thank god we have strong roofs, the houses were not totally destroyed” he tells us. Like his sister-in-law he was not able to report the loss of his business documents either. He was too late too, and made the same experience at the police station when he went to report his loss. Three months later he is still busy cleaning up, trying to set up business again. He had 2 employees, both have not been able to return to work yet and thus they and their families (both have two children) have been without income since March.

Señor Vladimir Corso

They have been other flooding and landslides before, tells us Señor Victoria, but this one was the worst so far. Often only water came down, but with the giant stones coming down too this time, and the sheer enormity of water, the destruction was much worse than on other occasions.

As if these stories weren’t enough, Señor Victoria and her brother-in-law tell us this at the end: In January and February, shortly before the landslide, the municipality had been building walls, on both sides of the path where the landslides normally come down. They did so because walls like this can help if it’s “only” water. But as not only water came down but also stones, mud and sand, it actually made things worse. Additionally, they had not finished building the walls when the landslide came down. So the half-finished construction came crashing down with the landslide, making it’s force and size even bigger. Abel explained what would help: they should build large stairs. This would hold up both water and landslide, and lessen it’s force and dimension.

In Chosica itself they were busy building the same kind of walls when the landslide occurred. 

You still see exactly where the landslide came down

Some people made a business out of the landslide: these men are selling stones 

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