By Mario Baos
Rosas, Colombia, Jan 13 (EFE).- When the earth began to tremble in this southwestern Colombian town, a woman and her husband averted near-certain death during a devastating landslide only due to the brave persistence and resourcefulness of their four dogs.
Ana Cristina Martinez, a firefighter in Rosas, a municipality in Cauca province, spoke to Efe about the natural disaster that occurred in the wee hours of Monday and devastated the hamlets of Santa Clara, La Soledad, Chontaduro, La Manguita and her village of Parraga Viejo, leaving more than 700 people homeless.
Days earlier, she had posted messages on social media alerting her neighbors that the lack of stability in the hillside likely portended a collapse.
Martinez’s warning sparked a rapid evacuation two days prior to the landslide, although the firefighter opted to remain with her husband and recover some of their belongings.
“In the early morning (of Jan. 9), at around 2.30, we were awoken by the roar of a home falling. That’s when we knew the landslide had begun, and the only thing we could do was start running,” she told Efe.
“Everything was falling in chunks. There was no electricity and the earth was trembling a lot. While we were fleeing, I fell into a 10-meter-deep (33-foot-deep) ravine and my dogs didn’t hesitate to go rescue me,” Martinez said. “I felt like they were pushing at my blouse with their muzzles so I would stand up, because the earth was going to fall on me and kill me.”
Despite suffering injuries to her feet and bumps and bruises all over her body, the woman managed to stand up. Meanwhile, her husband, Mauricio Zuñiga, desperately sought a path to safety as their hamlet rapidly collapsed around them.
It was then that Malu, Bosco, Guardian and Tigre, the family’s four dogs, took the lead and guided them in the darkness to a hill that was out of harm’s way.
“As we were climbing and seeking refuge, we could hear the earth creak. Our neighbors’ houses were already unoccupied, and you could hear them fall. It was a terrifying scene, like an apocalypse,” Martinez said.
With the first rays of sunlight, the couple were finally able to fully assess the magnitude of the disaster. Homes where more than 700 evacuated people had lived had been reduced to a trail of mud and rocks that stretched for several kilometers.
It also became crystal clear to Martinez and Zuñiga just how narrowly they had defied death.
“They rescued us at around 7.30 am, and the dogs went with us. Without them, it would’ve been a different story. We wouldn’t be alive,” the woman said.
Martinez and her husband, accompanied by their dogs, received medical care at the hospital in Rosas; their animals, meanwhile, were treated by charities that had arrived at the site of the tragedy.
The couple was later transferred to a shelter set up at the Santa Teresita school, where they are joined by their canine companions while awaiting a more permanent solution.
“My animals are a blessing. They saved my life, and if they tell me they have to depart the shelter then I’ll go with them. I’d leave any place behind before I’d (abandon them),” Martinez said.
Luis Angel Samudio, a resident of Chontaduro, told Efe that before running to safety with his mother, wife and three children he let out his rabbits, hens and guinea pigs so they had a chance to survive.
“We didn’t think this landslide would affect us. It was terrible. The animals were left up on the hill, but what else could I have done?” Samudio said.
Colombian President Gustavo Petro visited one of the shelters this week and announced the purchase of a small rural property to relocate displaced families in the coming days.
Some of the occupants of that shelter will also be joined by furry, loyal companions who were by their side in what was perhaps the most traumatic moment of their lives. EFE