Oct 17 2012

Living in an earthquake-prone area in Guatemala


Suriel Ramirez, CFCA social worker in Guatemala.

Sponsored friends who live in the Chiquimulilla region of Guatemala have experienced small, frequent earthquakes for many years. These quakes have affected their lives and the infrastructure.

Suriel Ramirez, CFCA social worker, has worked for CFCA for nearly 10 years. He shared these insights about the earthquakes that affect the area.

How is this area impacted by quakes?

Our town has always witnessed earthquakes ever since I can remember. Many of the earthquake epicenters surround the mountains in this area.

We are vulnerable because two fault lines cross our state. These tremors have gotten stronger and more frequent since June of 2011.

For some reason, maybe it’s a coincidence, we can feel the strongest quakes the middle of each month.

It is scary to witness these tremors. People are alarmed and rumors of great disaster keep us fearful.

How have these quakes affected the homes of families?

A great number of homes in this area are made of adobe. This type of structure is vulnerable to earthquakes. Walls made with adobe easily break and fall with even small earthquakes.

Walls made with cornstalks and mud are also weak and can easily collapse.

Concrete and cinderblock homes are the safest, but even these homes are in danger when a strong earthquake occurs.

I have seen cinderblock walls crack and fall just as fast as others made with adobe or cornstalks.

What challenges does a family face when living in a damaged home?

Local authorities and government must provide a temporary shelter for the families whose homes are unsafe and uninhabitable.

An earthquake-damaged home in Guatemala.

An earthquake-damaged home in Guatemala.

After some time has passed, however, residents are forced to go back to their unsafe homes. They have no other alternative.

These families do not have peace when they go to sleep at night. They cannot rest at ease and they say, “God will decide if I wake up tomorrow.”

Many of the family members deal with physiological stress because their lives are at risk.

What type of help does a family receive when there is an emergency such as an earthquake?

CFCA staffers have discussed with sponsored friends and their families what they can do in case of an emergency.

The families have received basic safety instructions. They know to stay calm, look for an open space outside their home, keep a source of light, such as a flashlight, candles or matches, and have emergency numbers and CFCA numbers available.

We also have an emergency fund that covers immediate needs such as water, food supplies, clothing, bed sheets, plates and cups.

CFCA staffers follow up with each family, and in some cases we provide help for home repairs.

Anything else you would like to add?

I remember visiting a sponsored boy’s home because I was going to take a picture of him and his family.

I was in his room when we felt a huge quake. The next thing I knew, I had a wall of adobe falling directly behind me.

We are called to serve our sponsored friends and we must work in this environment. Taking risks is part of our work.

CFCA staffers also help sponsored friends and their families look for help through other government and non-government organizations that assist with disaster relief.

Interview with Felipa, whose grandson, Melvin, is sponsored through CFCA. Felipa lives with two of her children, their spouses and her four grandchildren.

Felipa and her grandson, Melvin

Felipa and her grandson, Melvin, who is sponsored through CFCA.

What is the current situation of your home?

The walls in our home are not safe. I go to sleep praying that nothing happens during the night, but there is not much we can do. We do not have the means to fix or reinforce our walls.

How have the earthquakes affected your home?

The cinderblock walls of my home have many cracks, and the cement floor in one of our rooms is cracked.

How often do the earthquakes occur?

We have tremors all the time. We had a couple of earthquakes two days ago.

Some quakes are big and easily felt, but others are small and I barely notice them, especially if I am walking.

Last year the quakes occurred often, maybe every 30 minutes, which went on all day and night for several months.

The quakes were so frequent and I was scared. I didn’t even want to come in the kitchen to cook for my family.

What steps do you take to help protect your family?

People in this area are familiar with earthquakes, but it still scares us every time.

It is hard to stay calm, but we try and move as fast as we can to an open space outside our home. I am always aware of everyone at home, and once we are outside I do a head count. Our neighbors also look out for each other.

My biggest concern is our neighbor’s home. It is a large two-level home made of concrete and cinderblocks.

We would have very little chance of survival if that house collapses over onto our little home.

I can’t sleep at night thinking that a big [earthquake] may come and bring that house down on us.

When the quakes are big we sleep in shelters. Sometimes we stay with one of our neighbors. They have a large front yard and we feel safer.

Other than this, there is not much more that we can do. All we can do is pray because the tremors will continue.


Felipa looks at the damage caused by the earthquakes.

If there was one thing you could change regarding the current infrastructure, what would it be?

I would fix and reinforce my cracked walls.

Is there any message you would like to give your grandson’s sponsor?

God has decided to give us a place to live. Some places have earthquakes, some places have tornados and some places have landslides, but we must keep our faith in God.

I want to tell my grandson’s sponsor that our faith is huge. We always pray for his sponsor and for our town so that God continues to protect us.

Anything else you would like to add?

The sound of an earthquake can freeze your body.

The power of an earthquake is incredible. It moves lampposts, cars and buildings.

Your body continues to shake long after the quake has stopped.

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