Disasters & Accidents

Families remain homeless in S. Mexico 3 years after huge quake

By Jose de Jesus Cortes

Juchitan, Mexico, Sep 6 (efe-epa).- Elizabeth Sanchez, 42, was about to go to sleep on Sept. 7, 2017, when the magnitude 8.2 earthquake hit the southern Mexican state of Oaxaca causing her home to collapse, and since that time she has been living under a canvas cover or tent to one side of the ruins of her house along with her husband and son.

As a person who suffered property damage, Elizabeth received 120,000 pesos (about $5,500) from the Mexican government to rebuild her house, but because construction materials have increased in price and the builder swindled her, charging up to 1,000 pesos ($46) per day, those resources ran out before her house could be completed.

A notice hung on the Juchitan de Zaragoza municipal palace tells about progress on reconstruction of local homes, saying that 3,813 houses have been rebuilt at a cost of 559.9 million pesos (about $26 million) in this town in the Tehuantepec Isthmus region, one of Mexico’s poorest areas and the zone hardest hit by the quake, which killed 98 people in the area.

But that figure does not include the dozens of homes that still have not been rebuilt or the families who have not gotten government support, and now – because of the coronavirus pandemic quarantine – they have to remain where they are, even if that might not be in a “house” per se, and theoretically cannot go out to work.

Elizabeth’s house has been only partially completed, built with adobe and tile. Only the foundation and the walls have been finished.

The iron bars that reinforce the walls are partially exposed to the elements and they are rusting, while Elizabeth and her family wait for more government support, although amid the current health and economic crisis, they fear that nothing more will arrive.

On Monday, she told EFE about her situation: “This is my house, I haven’t finished it because I can’t. I need help,” she said, adding that if President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador would help her to finish the home, she and her family (husband Francisco and son Alexander, who has Down Syndrome) wouldn’t have to live under the canvas awning.

“We’ve been under the canvas for three years because I couldn’t finish the house. It couldn’t be done because the man who was working on it charged too much and worked slowly,” she said.

Living under the canvas awning has been tough, with temperatures reaching up to 42 C (108 F), along with rain and wind, which often plague the region.

Elizabeth works in the informal economy selling “totopos” – corn tortillas or chips – for a peso ($0.22) at the local market. Francisco earns 150 pesos ($7) a week reselling fish in town.

Many other local residents have been in similar circumstances since the quake, which devastated the region and destroyed many other homes. The Regional Network of Affected Residents, a political organization that serves as a liaison with the federal and state governments for locals who lost their homes, is still operating in the area.

The lack of attention shown to more than 100 local families in the three years since the quake is due, says the organization, to the corruption of the previous Mexican administration, headed by former President Enrique Peña Nieto, who governed from 2012-2018.

“Many families in 2017 didn’t receive the support they should have gotten,” one of the members of the Network, Magaly Sanchez Santiago, told EFE.

The activist questioned what could actually be done to rebuild a home with “only” 120,000 pesos or to completely repair it with the 15,000 pesos (about $700) that the government provided.

“What can you repair with that amount if you’re in an emergency phase, a health situation and you have to live day to day and you don’t have wor? Juchitan completely collapsed and the resources were insufficient,” she said.

The quake that hit Juchitan – the largest one in the past 100 years – also damaged or destroyed public buildings, like the municipal palace, the repair of which only began this year, along with historical structures like the San Vicente Ferrer church and the Culture House dating back to the 19th century, which is only 5 percent repaired at this point, according to Michel Pineda, the coordinating manager for cultural projects in the town.

On the state level, Oaxaca state Gov. Alejandro Murat reported that 60,000 homes damaged by the quake have been rebuilt, along with 60 health centers, and this year authorities intend to rebuild some 2,000 schools throughout the region.

However, with those wounds still unhealed, Juchitan has not been able to recover from the massive quake and collapsed walls, rubble from destroyed homes and other assorted debris is still everywhere.

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