It Wasn’t the Volcano, It Was the Tropical Storm

The headlines were about Volcan Pacaya and the sinkhole, but the real misery was caused by tropical storm Agatha. Here are quotes from coverage of destruction around Lake Atitlan, with links to the stories in which they appear:

We walked to the road above the house just in time to see a wall of
mud . . . wash over the bridge and down into the river. The ground
shook with the force and it sounded like a freight train passing a few
feet from you.”


"The couple's home escaped damage, but about one-quarter of their Mayan village of Santa Catarina Palopo was decimated.

"Where there were roads, it's a mountain of rubble and mud. When you
go through the villages, there's no more villages – it's all a big lump
of mud, rocks and dirt," he said.

Two people died in their village, but one-third of the population of
neighbouring San Antonio, five kilometres away, was wiped out.

"I have an American friend in that village and while the storm was happening, he called me in a panic," Mr Seroussi said.

"The conversation was helpless. He could see people dying with his own eyes."

But Mr Seroussi and his British-born wife, Marcelle, were trying to stay calm.

"I've never in my life heard anything like that storm," he said.

"The noise of the landslide and the water was frightening – it was incredible. You could hear people's houses being taken away."


"The Guatemalan government said more than 36 inches of rain fell in
parts of the country and dozens of towns and villages were inaccessible
because of roads blocked by debris.

United States sent six military aircraft to Guatemala, from a base in
Honduras, to ferry aid and help with evacuations from isolated areas.

Aurora International Airport in Guatemala City was already closed after
being showered with ash from an eruption of the Pacaya volcano earlier
last week.


"The worst storm-related disaster occurred in a village in Solola
department where a landslide swept away 25 homes killing 15 people,
with another 10 missing, according to San Antonio Palopo Mayor Andres

To prevent an outbreak of disease, the bodies will be buried at once, he said.




We fled Lake Atitlan only hours before it all happened. We crossed the bridge in the photos above within six hours of its collapse. When it gave way the communities around the lake were isolated, perhaps until now, six days later.

We have no ties to Lake Atitlan or Guatemala. We just found this obscure little lake on the internet, thought it looked nice and booked a holiday. But since we were there (and had the good fortune to flee just ahead of the mayhem), we're feeling kind of connected to the tragedy.

Up until the morning of the third day of rainfall we'd felt robbed. Already half our stay had been marred by clouds and rain. We couldn't even see across the lake.

We arrived Thursday afternoon. By Friday night the heavy rains from tropical storm Agatha caused us all, staff and guests, to avoid isolated spots in the hotel because of dampness. Saturday morning the walls in our room had wet spots. A section of the dining area (discreetly designed to be outside but under cover), was too wet to use.

There was no weather news. Having no TV was part of the hotel's charm.

Over Saturday breakfast of rich Guatemalan coffee in a French press, with fruit and fresh squeezed juices and black beans and plantains and eggs and bacon – this was a really lovely hotel – the realization struck that we should leave. We suddenly just understood that this wasn't getting better, that the hills up above the hotel and around the entire lake were sodden and that we should go, and now.

The hotel staff thought that was a good idea, too, though they would stay behind. Another couple (there were just five rooms occupied) would be leaving in half an hour. Would we like to go with them?

No, we couldn't be ready so quickly, we'd have to pack, we were still at breakfast. We wouldn't presume to hold them up while we got ready. They found another driver who could take us out the 90 miles to Guatemala City, leaving in an hour and a half. We'd do that.

Suddenly the hour and a half felt too long to wait.

Elias, our driver, arrived at noon. He'd said he'd driven his motorcycle down to the hotel from higher up, and he said it was crazy up there.

Map_2 This makes me fear he lived in San Andres de Palopo, which you can see on this map (click it to make it bigger) is up in the hills above Santa Catarina.

Newspapers in Guatemala City reported 13 dead in San Andres de Palopo.

As of midday today there's still no answer at the hotel, Casa Palopo. We'll keep trying to reach them until they get their land lines back. So far it's been six days.

Here are the pictures we took around the lake, shortly after we left Casa Palopo for Guatemala City.

I'll try to get these and some of the rest posted to a proper Guatemala Gallery at over the weekend. I'll also finish up the rest of the drive into Guatemala City in the next couple of days.


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