Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington

From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302

Missioner reports that Guatemala storm damage worst in over 35 years

by Father David Baronti, for the Inland Register

(From the Nov. 11, 2010 edition of the Inland Register)

(Editor’s note: The unending summer storms have had a devastating effect on the native people in the Spokane Mission in the Guatemalan Highlands. Following are some excerpts from a recent email from Father David Baronti, the Spokane Diocese priest who is serving the Mayan Indian people in the mountainous area of Ixtahuacán, Guatemala.)

First, the rainy season in Guatemala was easily the worst in the last 70 years, probably more. Hurricanes Agatha and Alex constituted only a modest part of the damage that was done this year, and a very very small amount of the total damage in Ixtahuacán proper.

Father Baronti (right) chats with Bishop William Skylstad last November in Guatemala. (IR photo by Deacon Eric Meisfjord)

The rain never stopped. [It] usually fell in torrents. Even the cannicula, the annual dry break between July 25-Aug. 15, did not appear this year.

The highways are unbelievable. Driving to Guatemala through the highlands is like going through a slalom event. First, only one pair of lanes to the left is open, because the ones to the right are closed, then vice versa, the one to the right is open because the lanes to the left are closed, then the lanes to the left are open again because the ones to the right are closed. The slalom events that one comes across when driving in the highlands are more frequent than the open [highway] events.

Those lanes that are closed, are closed generally because they are buried under mountains and mountains of slide. Ixtahua-cán, of course, is far more susceptible to such rains than other places. Witness the church. If there existed a discrepancy before between the level of the bell tower and the level of the dome before this year (and of course the discrepancy was marked) it is far more pronounced now.

Vis-a-vis the dome area, the rains this year easily dropped the nave area where the people sit two feet farther down. We basically fixed the side doors to the church, but the lower door to the [side leading to the] bakery no longer opens.

Second, virtually all of the houses in Ixtahuacán were severely damaged. A couple of houses in the town proper fell all together, but what is very surprising is the damage that was done all over to the floors. Perhaps you remember how the floor in the parish house looked before we remodeled it a couple of years [ago. It was extremely uneven.] Today, the parish house is about the only house in Ixtahuacán without such [an uneven] floor. The floors in people’s houses generally look like some post earthquake pictures.

In the aldeas [smaller communities of the area] the situation varies. Some such as Tzamchaj were harder hit than the central town, with four of five houses completely destroyed, having fallen into barrancos [precipices].

Third, the people tell me that perhaps 70 percent of the corn crop has been destroyed, and about 80 percent of the bean crop. The repercussions will be doubly felt. First, because the people’s own crops will have been destroyed, forcing them to purchase what they before had stored up for themselves, and secondly, because the purchasing prices will likely double.

Secondary crops such as onions, potatoes and tomatoes suffered more. They were completely destroyed. The effect on the local economy will be profound. Such products are locally produced. The effect on prices will be drastically felt. Unless there is help, a year of hunger faces our people.

Fourth, in sum, one can say that the extent of this disaster is without precedent, far more serious than earthquake year when I first arrived in Ixtahuacán [i.e. in 1976].

— Father David

(The Dioceses of Sololá, Guatemala and Spokane recently celebrated 50 years of a “sister-diocese” relationship. The Spokane Diocese’s Guatemala Commission is seeking donations to help with the impending food shortage in our Spokane Mission area. If you can help, please mark your check Guatemala Storm Relief and send your contribution to the Guatemala Commission, Diocese of Spokane, P.O. Box 1453, Spokane, WA 99210-1453)

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