The faces of Hurricane Ida

By Tjarda Muller
Juana Francisca Garcia, 36, is the mother of two children, 10 and 13 years old.

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In the early hours of November 8, Hurricane Ida brought landslides and flooding to large parts of El Salvador, leaving 198 people dead and seven missing. In the Department of La Paz, the Jiboa River overflowed and burried entire communities in mud and rubble. Luckily, all residents  were evacuated in time. In the nearby shelter, Mayra, Reyes, Santos, José, and Juana shared their stories with Oxfam America. Here are their testimonies.

Mayra del Carmen Centeno,  26

“The water rose above the windows. That was around one or two o’clock in the morning. It rose very quickly. I left my house swimming through the window and we went to the house of a neighbor who has a wide wall. We all climbed onto that wall, even some dogs. There we stayed until five or six o’clock, when the rain began to stop. Then, with the light of day, we all helped each other to get out. By then, the bridge had already collapsed and they had to get us to the other side of the river with a rope, one by one. On the other side, a pick-up truck waited for us, ready to bring us here, to the shelter.”
Mayra’s little house of cement blocks remained intact, but she lost all of her belongings. In the mud and rubbish, she found a picture of her two children, 7 and 8 years old. At the sight of it, Mayra burst in tears. The loss of these irreplaceable things is what most hurts. 

 Reyes de Jesús Abarcas Avilés, 35

“We were the last ones in the neighborhood to get out.  But not via the streets. We had to go through the houses of other people. We didn’t know what to do! My brother came and we put my mother in a big bucket to get her out. I walked behind them, hanging on to the ropes they provided us with. And when the car went over the bridge, it came down.” 

Santos de Jesús Ramos Castro, 65

“Eight months ago, my husband died and I was very lonely. So, I came here (El Achiotal), where my sisters live. But after a while I decided to go back, because my sisters gave me everything and I felt like I had to earn my own living. And after only two weeks of being back in my own village, this happened.   I stayed in my house. When the water came up to here (chest high), I climbed into my hammock, which I had tied up as high as I could. But when I saw that the water rose even more, I decided to get out. I reached for a chair. I almost fell! Many had gone to the school, but I decided to go back to my sisters. I thought that maybe the water hadn’t entered there. I left on Sunday morning and when I got here, I saw that they were also evacuating people. It’s pure luck that I found my sisters! And now, where they are, I’ll be.  Because I have nowhere to go. I’m all alone, without my husband, without my home, without my house.”

José Vicente Santos de la O, 26

“We had gone to dig up turtle eggs. We were on our way back and we saw the water coming. First a little bit, and then it rose to our knees. We were seven all together, riding our bikes. When the water rose up to our chests, we had to throw our bikes on our shoulders. After one hour we could barely go on, our legs hurt too much!  The bike is the only thing that I could save; I left it in a house where almost no water entered. But apart from that, I’ve lost everything, my little shack, the metal sheets, everything is gone. Just a pool of muddy water is left behind.”

Juana Francisca García, 36

“I called 911 and they said ‘Have patience. We’ll get there.’ In the mean time, we climbed onto a beam. The water was already chest high. At five o’clock a brother from the church came and he took one of my boys. I carried the other one. The water was already above their heads. We can’t live here anymore. The mud came above the windows, everything is destroyed. And we have no income. Normally we live from working in the sugar cane fields, but now, the harvest is ruined too.”