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Guatemala Suffers String Of Natural Disasters

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Guatemala Suffers String Of Natural Disasters

Latin America

Guatemala Suffers String Of Natural Disasters

Guatemala Suffers String Of Natural Disasters

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Sinkhole i

A sinkhole covers a street intersection in downtown Guatemala City. Moises Castillo hide caption

toggle caption Moises Castillo
Sinkhole

A sinkhole covers a street intersection in downtown Guatemala City.

Moises Castillo

In the span of one week, Guatemala has been hit with a series of natural disasters: a volcanic eruption, Tropical Storm Agatha and the opening of a giant sinkhole that swallowed a building whole. More than 180 people are reported dead as a result. Host Michel Martin speaks with Associate Press reporter Juan Carlos Llorca, stationed in Guatemala City, for a report from the ground.

MICHEL MARTIN, host:

Now we go to Guatemala, which has been suffering from a rash of disasters. First, a volcano eruption that rained ash and debris on Guatemala City. And then, as we just mentioned, a tropical storm hit Central America last week. In Guatemala, that storm took more than 150 lives. And it left this remarkable giant sink hole behind. Maybe you've seen pictures on the Web, we'll certainly have pictures on our website. That sink hole swallowed a three-story building whole.

On the ground for us in Guatemala City to tell us more is Associated Press reporter Juan Carlos Llorca. Juan Carlos, thanks so much for joining us.

Mr. JUAN CARLOS LLORCA (Reporter, Associated Press): Thanks for having me, Michel, how are you?

MARTIN: I'm good. Now, I understand that tropical storm Agatha left at least 156 people dead and at least 103 people missing. How are people doing?

Mr. LLORCA: Well, it's really bad for people, especially in the countryside because they lost their homes. They can't go back to where they used to live. So, it's pretty bad.

MARTIN: A tropical storm is a step down from the severity of a hurricane. But as I understand it, there was pretty ample warning that the storm was coming and that it was going to be severe. So I think some people might wonder, how is it that there was that level of loss of life?

Mr. LLORCA: I think it's two reasons. One, people refused to evacuate in many cases because they were afraid that they were going to lose whatever little they had. For someone who worked a year to buy a TV set, it's really hard to just leave it and go to safety, as hard as it sounds.

The other reason is that the people affected were so poor and they were living on the sides of ravines and slopes of ravines and also in places where there's frequent mudslides. They were so poor, they could have lived anywhere else, that they were also affected by something that was not as strong as a hurricane.

MARTIN: Now, tell me about the sink hole. I understand that it's 66 feet wide, 100 feet deep?

Mr. LLORCA: Well, like you said, it's a big sink hole. And geologists, so far, they don't know exactly what happened. They think that somehow there was a leak of sewage water happening under where the sink hole now is over the years and it created sort of a cavern under it. And last weekend, when the massive floods and rain came through, the amount of water leaking from that sewage or from that drain was more and the straw that broke the camel's back and led to the collapse of the sink hole.

MARTIN: Now, as I understand it, it swallowed up a three-story building. Did this happen all at once as in the way, like the way an earthquake happens in a matter of seconds, or was this is a gradual process?

Mr. LLORCA: No, it was sudden. Actually, people that were that I interviewed in the area, they said that it was just like a flash. And they said that people were very lucky because just a few minutes ago, all the workers from that building it used to be a clothing factory, they just had left for the day.

MARTIN: Well, what happens now? What does the city do?

Mr. LLORCA: Sadly, it's not the first time it happened. Three years ago we had a bigger sink hole, mysteriously two miles down the road from where this one happened. And what they do is they wait for it to dry, they repair whatever leaks there were in the drain and then they fill it up with dirt and cement. And the local cement factory was talking about using the ash that the volcano spewed last week and mixing it with cement to find a place to put the ash and to do some good with the tragedy that happened with the rain of ash and sand from the volcano.

MARTIN: Oh boy, well, that's creative. And finally, Juan Carlos, if you don't mind my asking, the sink hole has gotten a lot of attention. I mean, the pictures have been emailed, I dare say, around the world. I'm not sure the loss of life attached to the storm has gotten quite as much attention. Does that bother people?

Mr. LLORCA: I don't know if it bothers people. I can certainly understand why for people in the developed countries that are the main consumer of news, it's easier to relate to something as a sink hole that could easily happen in a developed country than to a landslide or a mudslide that happens in places where no one in those countries would ever think of building a house. That and the fact that if you see the pictures of the sink hole, it's pretty impressive. It's cinematic. So I can understand why.

MARTIN: Juan Carlos Llorca is a reporter for the Associated Press. He joined us from Guatemala City. Juan Carlos, thank you so much for speaking with us.

Mr. LLORCA: Oh, thank you for having me.

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