Sunday, October 16, 2011

The Rainy Season

Nearing the end of the rainy season and it has been pretty dry ... until Tropical Depression 12-E formed off the coast of Guatemala. Then it meandered up into Mexico, then a bit south, and then into the Gulf of Mexico.

All that time, it continued to drop rain and more rain. We are on our fifth day of solid rain - not continuous but almost. Enough rain to cause 24 deaths, 14,000 persons displaced to shelters, a national state of emergency, and the destruction of 30% of the corn and bean harvest.

On the news, I saw a Government Minister asking people to bring donations of food to the CIFCO Convention Centre. There was a warehouse filling with foodstuffs, beds, water tanks. I asked a friend if he was going to donate and mentioned that I wanted to do something and he told me that most of those donations would be stolen or “lost” and sold at the side of the road in a few months.

The largest grocery chain publicized that they had made a large donation for disaster relief and asked people to drop off food at donation boxes in their stores. Hmm, so they want people to buy food at their stores with their regular mark-up to donate. Making money from a disaster.

Rivers that are normally low enough to wade through are now 20'+ high and overflowing their banks.

I ended up at Pricesmart with the intention of buying bulk bags of rice and beans with no idea of how it would end up with people who needed it the most. Luckily, a perky young Pricesmart saleswoman came up to me with a clipboard and asked if I was interested in donating needed goods. She mentioned that Pricesmart had reduced the cost of certain food products to encourage people to purchase and donate. I said I was very interested but I didn’t want to take it with me and asked if I could buy it and leave it with them to take care of. She said that she didn’t know about that but would ask her manager later and I asked if she could get an answer now. Then she came back with a young high-school volunteer who said I could buy the food and leave it with their organization. So we got another cart and loaded up two bulk bags of rice and two of beans. The red beans were $17 for the bag but the same amount of black beans were only $10. We got into a debate of which would be better and the woman said that Salvadorans much preferred red beans while the kid said that this was aid food so they would eat anything if they were hungry. We got the red beans. Then some bulk packs of pasta for the kids and then two large bags of candies.

Someone else had three shopping carts full of rice, beans and oil. Another woman who looked to be a concerned liberal American had dragged her less enthusiastic Salvadoran husband to the store to get aid food and was checking out the pallets of rice and beans.

The woman said that Pricesmart guaranteed that the food would get to people in need - which was nice since I would be pissed and they would burn in hell if the food ended up on their shelves to be sold again.

Paid for the stuff and brought it outside where it was still pouring rain and left it with a group of high school students who were with some aid group. So I feel better having done something. But I wonder what is happening out there. There are maybe 14,000 people in shelters who need to be fed. There are maybe a few hundred families who have lost their home. Thousands have had damage or loss of property. And many thousands have had their crops severely damaged and may only have food for part of next year.

This is what a mudslide looks like. Nice house beside a tree covered hill until the rains won't stop.

My sister-in-law came by this morning to visit. Her husband is a civil engineer and works for Fovial, the national road works department. As you can imagine, they are working 24 hours a day clearing hundreds of land slides and repairing many bridges that have come down. I asked her about how aid was distributed and if she knew if much was stolen. She said she didn’t and I asked how I could contribute in a way that the aid would get to where it was supposed to. And unfortunately, she didn’t know, probably because they were not in the position to give much to charity.

So I lamented on how tough it was that people were in shelters and lost their crops and how many people would go hungry. I asked her what was going to happen in 6 to 8 months as these families ran out of food, if the government or any organization would help them. She said no, that they would have to get additional jobs if they could find them and maybe turn their kids over to orphanages. I don’t understand how a country where an $80,000 Porsche Cayenne is a popular and not uncommon car can allow people to go hungry. And she looked at me and shook her head and gave me a smile like she was talking to a child and said that this is how it has always been in this country.

The road from San Salvador to the Libertad port and beach. Most of the main highways in the country are partially closed with landslides and fallen trees.

Ugh, it’s pouring again! My friend in Antigua is starting to get very depressed from all this rain and lack of sun. I’m lucky that I got 8 weeks in Toronto this summer and just had a week in Havana so I don’t have the weight of all this rain on my head. Another friend from Havana was on business in San Salvador for the week and flew back on Saturday. Havana has done quite well for not having hurricanes this season - they all seem to fling northward after getting as far as PR or Haiti - but now 12-E is following Richard back to Havana and Cuba may see their first hurricane of the year and from the opposite direction than normal!

Nice to see that Salvadorans are helping each other and there are more and more donation points for food and clothes and household items. It is day 6 and still raining and now it is blowing hard. Rain is almost constant switching from a light drizzle to a hard downpour to a gusty blowing diagonal rain.

Most of the schools were closed this week to keep kids off the somewhat dangerous roads and to reduce the level of traffic. I saw two unusual things happen on the roads this week, both times from the window from my gym at the top of Escalon at the Masferrer roundabout. A guy was driving up the street and seemed to stall his car in the left lane. I imagined that he would back up into one of the many parking lots on the right hand side of the road. Instead, he backed up about twenty feet and then turned sharply into the curb blocking both up-hill lanes. Then he got out of the car to try to push his vehicle (uphill with the wheels sharply turned) into a U-turn across all four lanes of traffic. Wow. Amazingly, an old Beetle stopped and two guys got out of the car and pushed the guy through his U-turn so that he could drive down hill and, I suppose, jump start his car (although he could have done this in reverse down the hill without doing a U-turn).
The tail security vehicle stopped by the fallen motorcycle cop. You can see the main convoy at the top of the circle.

The other strange thing happened when President Funes motorcade came blasting up Jerusalem from his office. They take several different routes from his office and usually have 4 - 5 motorcycle cops who drive ahead to block roads and 3 - 4 vehicles with security and the Presidente. So a motorcycle cop comes up into the roundabout, heads down hill in the circle to block the traffic coming up Escalon. This is a very badly designed roundabout and is the scene of much honking and many accidents. The main problem is that the ingress roads into the circle approach and then turn sharply right so people tend to stop and block traffic instead of entering the circle and then merging normally. Another entry point has really tight curbs so cars and trucks routinely collide causing complete traffic chaos as a main artery is blocked for up to an hour while the cops and insurance investigators work the scene. Okay, so yesterday during the rain, the motorcycle cop stops in front of the cars entering from Escalon, puts up his hand, and a woman nails him and drives over the motorcycle. The trailing motorcycle cops stop to check on him and then the first security vehicle. What looks like Funes SUV pulls up and they check out the guy and he looks okay and they can’t be sitting around like that so they take off to the residence. The last security vehicle stops and guys with very big guns get out of it. They secure the scene stopping all traffic and then pick up the guy who looks to have at least a broken leg and they load him into the back seat to take to the hospital.

The injured officer being loaded into the security truck.

Lots of different cops show up, some army guys take a look, traffic investigators arrive and the poor woman who hit the cop is in big trouble! A while later, some family members arrive and there is a lot of huddling in the rain. The bike is left there for more than an hour until Channel 2 arrives. The driver stops the car beside the crashed vehicles, gets out with a camera and starts shooting the scene. Of course this blocks all the traffic going through so the guy in the passenger seat jumps out and runs around to get into the car to move it. The camera man walks around the car and this is when the cops decide to pull the motorcycle from under the car. Lots of interviews ensue. Another day on San Salvador’s roads.

Over an hour after the accident, finally moving the motorcycle when the TV crew shows up - they are at the top left interviewing the investigators under the pink umbrella.

Hope this rain stops soon! And good luck to Cuba.