The second hurricane of 2018 will come calling across Georgia today. In the run-up, the trees are loud with wind, and clouds barrel in fast and low. It looks a lot like what started out innocently as a long weekend at pretty little Lake Atitlan in Guatemala a few years back (from ATL, this is a shorter flight than to SFO). By the time it was over we’d fled a tropical storm back to the capital, then had to evacuate to El Salvador after a volcanic eruption.
Tropical Storm Agatha crept up from behind, from the Pacific, while nobody was looking, and walloped Guatemala. This bridge collapsed a few hours after we crossed, trapping people on the wrong side of it for several days.
This post describes our evacuation from the lake back to Guatemala City, and here is a post titled Mostly Calamity, As It Turns Out, dated May 29, 2010, with more photos.
Meanwhile, and also unknown to us, it turns out that Volcan de Picaya erupted hours after we arrived on a Thursday closing the Guatemala City airport due to volcanic ash until the following Tuesday. Flights backed up and our first shot at leaving wasn’t for several days, so we arranged transportation to El Salvador and managed to fly home just three days late.
Here is wet volcanic ash and storm damage at a construction site adjacent to the hotel in Guatemala City.
It was supposed to be just a quiet weekend getaway at the lake.
This week's photo is from a May, 2010 visit to Guatemala. This shoe shine man sits on the main square in Antigua, Guatemala. Click the photo for a much bigger version.
We intended a peaceful weekend at Lake Atitlan, but a few hours after our arrival Volcan Pacaya erupted, closing the airport, then we were hit by tropical storm Agatha and had to flee first Lake Atitlan then Guatemala, where the airport remained closed, for a ride home from El Salvador.
Here's what happened: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10. There are photos of the experience in the Guatemala Gallery at EarthPhotos.com.
And here are three hundred-odd photos in the HDR Gallery.
Heather Berkman writes in Foreign Policy that it's mostly about drug interdiction. Plus there's no place much better in Central America for a U.S. president to visit:
"… El Salvador has remained politically stable. Honduras is still regrouping following the ouster of President Manuel Zelaya in 2009. Guatemala's government lacks the resources and the political will to effectively combat drug traffickers. Throw in the likely reelection of Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua this year, Washington's ongoing tensions with Panama's mercurial President Ricardo Martinelli, and Costa Rica's lack of regional political weight, and El Salvador begins to look more like Washington's foothold in the region."
Entering El Salvador overland from Guatemala, bananas welcomed us to this republic.
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
"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.
Not quite the quiet little holiday we planned, but thanks to El Salvador for allowing us to transit their country. Back on the farm in Georgia.