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Guatemalan Army Corps of Engineers Rebuilds Homes Destroyed or Damaged by Earhtquake

Guatemalan Army Corps of Engineers Rebuilds Homes Destroyed or Damaged by Earhtquake

By Dialogo
August 26, 2015

I would like to proudly and passionately serve my country. I just don't know how to get into the Army. Could someone here help me? I am from Tactic, Alta Verapaz

The Armed Forces of Guatemala have completed rebuilding 5,011 homes destroyed or damaged by the major earthquake that struck the country on November 7, 2012.

The temblor, which measured 7.4 on the Richter scale, destroyed 1,860 homes and damaged 3,412 others, primarily in the departments of San Marcos, Quetzaltenango, Sololá, Totonicapán, Retalhuleu, Quiché, Huehuetenango, and Suchitepéquez, according to the Guatemalan National Coordination Office for Disaster Reduction (Conred). The quake also destroyed schools and roadways.

Personnel from the Army Corps of Engineers responded the same day of the earthquake, rebuilding homes that had crumbled completely or were damaged in eight highly affected locations, including the departments of San Marcos, Quetzaltenango, Sololá, Totonicapán, Retalhuleu, Quiché, Huehuetenango and Suchitepéquez. On June 30, 2015, they delivered the last of the 5,011 houses they rebuilt.

“We coordinated with local authorities to deliver the materials. We employed masonry workers and apprentices from those areas,” said Colonel Engineer Luis Miguel Ralda Moreno, a graduate of the General Staff College and the Commanding Officer of the Army’s Teniente Coronel de Ingeniería Francisco Vela Arango Corps of Engineers. “The officers were responsible for verifying that the plans were followed and the quality standards were maintained at each step. If one block were misplaced, the entire job would need to be redone.”

Improved quality of life

Civilians whose homes were rebuilt praised the quality of the work because their quality of life has improved. Some had been living in adobe homes, and the Army Corps of Engineers built them more modern homes.

The new houses are made of perfectly aligned concrete blocks, iron, and sand, which serve as the base for the girt supporting the steel siding. The houses have two bedrooms, a living room-dining room area, and a kitchen, although most of the families opted to cook outside the houses.

“They (the Corps of Engineers) came to see that they gave us all the materials and they built the house well,” said 25-yeqr-old Zoila Dionicio Ramírez, who lives with her husband and three children in the house that the Corps delivered in June in the town of Esquipulas Palo Gordo, department of San Marcos. “The truth is it was very well done, no leaks in it, like before.” The family's previous home was made of adobe and had a dirt floor.

In addition to the primary construction, the Corps of Engineers also provided the homes with a full bathroom and a laundry room, and the infrastructure so the homes could receive water and electricity.

“Thanks to them now we have a place to live. Ever since the earthquake, we’ve had to sleep at my mother-in-law’s house, and another time in a house we made out of plastic,” Ramirez said.

The Corps of Engineers demolished damaged homes that had not completely crumbled but were dangerous to its inhabitants, as well as rebuilding the structures. To qualify for the assistance, families submitted paperwork to demonstrate they owned the property, as well as documentation declaring the home was uninhabitable.

Twenty-six-year-old Brenda Maldonado and her two children, whose home was also rebuilt by the Corps of Engineers, feel safer in their new house. Their previous home had fallen on its side and was full of cracks.

Henry López is also proud of the house he received at the end of May, which he shares with his wife and five children, ages 15 years to five months. His greatest concern after the shock of the earthquake was not having anywhere to spend the cold nights at the end of the year. Now that he and his family have a new home, he says he will not change anything in the construction done by the Army Corps of Engineers.

A critical response

Juan Carlos Ochoa, mayor of the town of Esquipulas Palo Gordo, said that the response from the Ministry of Defense was critical, because they arrived immediately after the disaster.

“And they didn’t leave until they completed the last house for the families,” he said.

The Army Corps of Engineers was founded on December 20, 1974. Two years after its creation the Corps assisted in clearing the rubble and rebuilding after the 1976 earthquake.

Every year the group provides engineering support in about 2,000 projects to aid the community in building roadway infrastructure and carrying out controlled demolitions.

Since its inception, the Corps of Engineers has helped build more than 1,300 km of roadways throughout the country, especially for access to remote communities that were previously inaccessible, according to Colonel Engineer Ralda Moreno.