One Year Later, Guatemala Still Reeling from Stan

Guatemalans continue their struggle to find adequate housing in the aftermath of Hurricane Stan. One year ago, the storm triggered huge mudslides that washed away whole villages and killed an estimated 1,500 people. The government has promised to rebuild homes, but Guatemalans have yet to see results.

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ALEX CHADWICK, host: In Guatemala people call last years violent Hurricane Stan, The Disaster the World Forgot. Stan killed 1500 people in Central America, many of them in Guatemala. Most died in mudslides. And one year later, some survivors say they've even been forgotten by their own their own government.

Lorenda Reddekop has more from one village particularly hard hit.

(Soundbite of children squealing)

LORENDA REDDEKOP: Shoeless children play in the dirt near the place they've called home for the past year - row upon row of flimsy structures made of plastic sheeting that were hastily erected after last year's storm. Each house is stamped with a logo for USAID - that's the organization that built the shelters.

Ms. MARIA ISHBALAN(ph): (Foreign language spoken)

REDDEKOP: Maria Ishabalan showed me her home, which is just one room of around 10 feet by 15 feet. But she says eight people live here. Four share two single beds, the rest of the family sleeps on the floor. At a shelter a few rows down, Jose Misiya(ph) says he's tired of living here.

Mr. JOSE MISIYA: (Through translator) The government promised to buy land and build us homes. It promised us a lot of things. Now, it seems the government has abandoned us.

REDDEKOP: Many of the 300 families living here feel the same way. And their frustration increases as they look toward the Atitlan Volcano. There near its base are partially finished homes built by the government, all of them empty and never likely to be filled.

Ms. BERNADETTA LATEDA(ph) (Volunteer, ADICAP): This is area of the shelter, and the area where they pretend to build the houses. This is in January.

REDDEKOP: Bernadetta Lateda(ph) points to a map image on her computer. It's part of a risk assessment study of the area done shortly after the hurricane. Lateda is a volunteer with the local development group ADICAP. She points to an area all in red, a risk zone for more mudslides.

The zone includes both the shelters and the area with the partly finished homes. But even after this preliminary study, the government started building there. Several months later, after more studies with the same results, they had to stop. More than $100,000 and months of work wasted.

Ms. LATEDA: It's not right. I mean, there is no sense of humanity. You cannot play with these people who have suffered so much.

REDDEKOP: The government's response: it was better to stop when they did than allow the people to live there. But it still hasn't started building elsewhere or even bought land.

(Soundbite of rocks falling)

REDDEKOP: It's just a few minutes walk from the housing shelters to Panabaj, which was inundated with mud during Hurricane Stan. Some houses are still standing, but the walls are ripped open. Pieces of metal roofing stick up through the dirt.

(Soundbite of garden hoe digging and clanking)

Nicholas Popsoy(ph) digs into the ground with his hoe where his house to stand. For now, he's flattening the ground to start a garden, but he's fed up with the cramped church-run shelter he's called home for the past year. He wants to rebuild.

Mr. NICHOLAS POPSOY: (Through translator) It won't be the best place, maybe, you know, just be made of sugarcane. It's not all the time that the mudslides happen and the government, it's going so slowly. Where we are now, there are eight people in our shelter. We're suffering.

(Soundbite of car engine)

REDDEKOP: Others have had the same idea. Along Panabaj's main road, several houses are occupied again. Many people say they feel nervous living here, especially now in the rainy season. But they say they have no other option.

President OSCAR BERGER (Guatemala): (Foreign language spoken)

REDDEKOP: Earlier this month, shortly after the hurricane's one-year mark, Guatemala's president, Oscar Berger, visited the devastated area. But he did not bring news of housing.

President BERGER: (Foreign language spoken)

REDDEKOP: Instead, he went to the central park of the town of Santiago Atitlan to announce the opening of a highway. He says circumstances, not the government, are responsible for the delay in rebuilding. And he encouraged people to be happy because they live near the most beautiful lake in the world. But across the country, of the 13,000 families promised homes, more than 11,100 are still waiting. And the government says it could be next year before any are built.

For NPR News, I'm Lorenda Reddekop in Santiago Atitlan, Guatemala.

(Soundbite of music)

CHADWICK: DAY TO DAY will be back in a moment.

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