Edwin Calito helps document residents in Guatemala community affected by volcanic eruption

By Chris Hufstader
Edwin Calito, one of the leaders of El Rodeo, which was badly affected by the eruption of the Fuego volcano in June of 2018. The disaster displaced 3,600 people. Photo: James Rodriguez/Panos for Oxfam America

Residents flee eruption, as a threat of landslides, lack of water make village unsafe.

Edwin Calito approaches a group of people standing in the shade next to a wall, outside the village school in his home town of El Rodeo. He starts talking with a woman, and pulls a slip of paper with an ink stamp on it out of a plastic bag. He writes the woman’s name on a list he is keeping.

“We’re doing this to know how many people are here,” he says, referring to the exercise as a “census.” “Normally, we have 350 families here,” he explains, noting that these are anything but normal times.

El Rodeo is high up on the side of the Fuego volcano, and on this day, about a month after a violent eruption, most of the people in the town have fled.

Edwin Calito issues stamps to people who live in El Rodeo as proof of residency. Photo: Chris Hufstader/Oxfam America

Ugly, dark cloud

Calito’s wife Brenda was at home when the volcano erupted, and she saw the ash, rock, and super-heated poisonous gas come flying down the side of the mountain, bringing along with it uprooted trees and other debris. “It was ugly, dark, everything was really dark,” she says. “Everyone ran down, screaming. You could see it, it was like a cloud coming down. Everything was coming down.”

Edwin Calito says he and other leaders from El Rodeo are now trying to find assistance from the government for those who live here. He says the future of the town is uncertain. The ash and rocks and debris surrounding the town still pose a danger: when subjected to heavy rains, it can slide down the mountain and engulf everything in its path. This is known as a lahar flow, what Oxfam’s Humanitarian Coordinator Ivan Aguilar says is “a powerful type of mudslide formed from volcanic ash and debris, which can reach areas that were not originally affected by the eruption itself."

In addition, Calito says, the town’s water source located several hundred meters up the slope, was cut off by the ash, rock, and debris.

Volcanic ash and other debris collected in this stream bed downstream from the Fuego volcano after it erupted in June 2018. Large deposits of this material pose a threat to villages farther down the volcano: In the event of any heavy rain, it can wash down and destroy entire towns. Photo: James Rodriguez/Panos for Oxfam America

Oxfam responded to the emergency in this area by helping the thousands of people seeking temporary shelter in the nearby city of Escuintla with water filters and hygiene kits to prevent any outbreaks of water-borne diseases that frequently occur after a natural disaster.

Oxfam also supplied cooking stoves and various cooking utensils to schools and other places where displaced people have been seeking shelter.

In the meantime, Calito and a few other volunteers are keeping an eye on things in El Rodeo, and hoping to move back home. For now, however, “El Rodeo is uninhabited,” Calito says. “A lot of ash and rocks fell here, and people were afraid. People just left, but maybe 25 of us remained here to take care of the town, to take care of the people and our homes.”

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