Army soldiers and officers of the National Police helped earthquake victims in Guatemala

The major earthquake damaged more than 9,000 living quarters in western Guatemala, leaving nearly 2,900 of those homes uninhabitable, according to a July 14 press release from the National Coordinator for Disaster Reduction (CONRED.
Julieta Pelcastre | 31 July 2014

Transnational Threats

Members of the Army’s Humanitarian Rescue Unit assess damage in the village of Cruz de Barranca, San Marcos. [Photo: Twitter of the Army of Guatemala]

Guatemalan Army troops and National Police officers coordinated efforts to assist victims of the July 7 earthquake which killed one person and injured 274 people, authorities said.

The major earthquake damaged more than 9,000 living quarters in western Guatemala, leaving nearly 2,900 of those homes uninhabitable, according to a July 14 press release from the National Coordinator for Disaster Reduction (CONRED). Security forces assisted in the evacuations of 6,341 people.

The earthquake registered 6.4 on the Richter scale, according to Gerardo Dávila, the spokesman for the municipality of San Marcos.

The quake caused damage in the departments of San Marcos, Quetzaltenango, Huehuetenango, Totonicapán, Sololá, Retalhuleu and Suchitepéquez. The earthquake inflicted the worst damage in San Marcos.

A quick response from the Army and the National Police

About 200 highly trained Army officers responded quickly to San Marcos to assist in the cleanup and remove debris from homes and roads, according to Dávila.

“Army soldiers have been under the command of the national emergency committee at the department and municipal levels,” Dávila said. “The soldiers have been focusing on the emergency from the beginning to avoid any mishaps; the response was immediate.” According to Dávila, dozens of officers of the National Civil Police (PNC) provided security to the people of San Marcos and municipalities affected by the quake.

In addition, damage was reported to the electric utility network in several municipalities in San Marcos, a situation in the early hours that left more than 127,000 users without electricity. Over the course of the days, work was performed to restore the service, authorities said.

Soldiers of the Alta Montaña Operations Brigade of San Marcos helped evacuate people at risk and in the assessment of damage caused by the quake. The Brigade has been working directly with those affected; people trust them, Dávila said.

The quake’s epicenter was located eight kilometers from the coastal town of Puerto Madero, on the Mexican Pacific, and about 200 kilometers east of the capital of Guatemala.

On July 9, President Otto Pérez Molina declared a state of calamity in the quake-hit area. The measure is a legal tool that allows authorities to assist people quickly in an orderly manner and quickly rebuild damaged infrastructure, mainly housing.

This measure allowed the government to save up to 70 million quetzals (US$ 9 million) in the reconstruction process after the earthquake registering 7.1 on the Richter scale occurred on November 7, 2012. This earthquake devastated the same region, 44 people were killed and more than 7,000 homes were destroyed, according to Teleprensa.

“Any tremor should be classified by the damage caused,” said the CONRED coordinator, Alejandro Maldonado, in the first block of the television program “De Frente con el Presidente”, which aired on July 8 from the central courtyard of the National Palace, the government of Guatemala reported.

“An earthquake above 6.0 on the Richter scale is 32 times more powerful than a magnitude 5.” “The immediate action by relief agencies, police, and the Army prevented more casualties in the country,” Maldonado said.

During the television program, Pérez Molina lamented the death of a baby at National Hospital in San Marcos. The quake caused the suspended ceiling of the hospital to break off and fall on the newborn.

Pérez Molina also reiterated that the quake “is considered serious, but cannot be classified as a major earthquake.” He added that the government is more than willing to work to carry out reconstruction efforts, which is still in the process after the earthquake in 2012.

Total reconstruction is a lengthy process because it is carried out through a subsidy, and many times the funds are not there, said Amanda Moran Mérida, researcher at the Center for Urban and Regional Studies (CEUR) at the University of San Carlos of Guatemala (USAC).

“The subsidy granted by the government to rebuild a home is approximately 35,000 quetzals (US$ 4,500).” “Forty percent of homes in the rural areas of Guatemala are built with adobe material” (brick made with clay or sand, mixed with straw), Moran Mérida said.

The lack of budget is the main obstacle in rebuilding homes and schools damaged by the recent earthquake, where the population demands quality reconstruction in the shortest time possible, Pérez Molina told Guatevision television network on July 17.

The Guatemalan government has more than US$ 5 million (40 million quetzals) to begin rebuilding homes. The reconstruction of homes will be the responsibility of the Army Corps of Engineers, staff of the Ministry of Communications, Infrastructure and Housing, and the Social Development Fund, authorities said.

The rebuilding plan will take place in three phases. The first phase will be the cleanup, the second, assessment, followed by demolition and reconstruction, while in the third phase, material and personnel data will be obtained that the authorities require.

“The fear of an earthquake is general; it is inevitable.” San Marcos is working normally. The population came together immediately to continue with daily activities. Unfortunately, some schools have not restarted activities; their buildings were damaged, Dávila said.

“This earthquake took us by surprise. We are not prepared for a catastrophe; we have a lot to do. The authorities must continue to promote more training at all levels of government and communities. Residents should not wait for security forces to come. They must act and work immediately. It is a task for everyone,” Dávila said.

In each of the departments concerned, authorities continue with various actions in response to those affected. The Army of Guatemala will carry out recovery actions in the departments affected by the quake.

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