Photos: William Urdaneta
In Bolívar State, the regional government put the issue of floods to rest with the evacuation of shelters. However, a new episode of uncertainty began for those families on Sunday, September 30, since their homes are still full of water and the risk of flooding continues as rain season just began.
Jeremiah’s family is one of them. At night, Akim, Andrés and their little sister sleep in the hotel where Akim works. His boss has allowed him to use the bathrooms and spend the nights in one of the empty rooms. When the day comes, both brothers share their little sister’s care. This contingency caught them in a time when their mother is abroad, in search for other opportunities.
We can’t return home. The water level’s been dropping in most houses, but not all of them.
“We can’t return home. The water level’s been dropping in most houses, but not all of them. Our belongings are still wet. In our block, many have contracted malaria and dengue,” said Andrés, one of Jeremiah’s brothers.
The victims of the floods were sheltered in 18 schools in Ciudad Guayana, but now the State has forgotten about them.
Officially, in the Caroní municipality, 851 houses and 1,085 families (3,351 people), have been affected. Amidst the contingency, Bolívar governor Justo Noguera Pietri visited various flooded areas promising investments through the Barrio Nuevo Tricolor Mission.
Caroní mayor Tito Oviedo, made an appearance to take pictures with the victims and announce inspections and resources for repairing houses. He also promised that if there were still families in shelters by the start of the school year, they’d be transferred to temporary homes. But, almost a month after the evacuation, these people feel that the government’s forgotten about them. What was once a problem for the state, has now become an individual crisis that affects thousands.
“They just wanted us to leave the schools, and they said anything to make us leave quietly. I don’t know anyone around here who’s been given a single brick to repair their home, or someone who has been taken to those promised temporary houses,” says Flores, who had no other choice but to return to her flooded home, with the water mere feet away from her back patio, as a constant threat from nature.
After evacuating the victims who were sheltered in 18 schools in Ciudad Guayana, several groups took over some lands and set up makeshift shelters, in order to avoid returning to the places they once lived in. They were evacuated by the National Guard, but some chose violence and attempted to settle in already inhabited places.
That’s what happened in a small land invasion that’s been in Castillito for about three months, in the same area that reported the largest amount of people affected, far from the river bank. “They came here with loud motorcycles and louder threats. A guy came to my home, insisting on living here in my shack. I was alone, scared to death,” said María Rojas, who adds that the group spent about a week prowling around the area, hunting plots of land that could be abandoned so they could take over them. “We met with the people of the communal councils, the police and the Governor’s Office; we showed them that all of those plots have owners. They listened and never came back.”
Sadly, the need for proper housing and the lack of institutional involvement surrounding regulations and safety conditions for new settlements have created the situation these families are experiencing.
In 2017, there were floods similar to the ones taking place this year. Since then, Castillito inhabitants have been demanding mayor Tito Oviedo to restart the “Plan Especial Castillito,” a 20-year-old project that proposed the need to take corrective measures to prevent what these families are living today. One of the proposed measures was building a dam road that would save up to 1,750 homes out of the 2,500 currently at risk, and the relocation of the remaining 750. Sadly, there hasn’t been any response so far for those who have been demanding support from the institutions.
There hasn’t been any response so far for those who have been demanding support from the institutions.
That’s why many refuse to return to their homes. Yecenia Aponte is one of them. Meanwhile, her family has been split apart. She and her two smaller children are living with a sister, her eldest daughter with her husband moved to her mother-in-law’s house. To make sure that her family’s sacrifice isn’t in vain, Yecenia spends most of her days visiting the Caroní Mayor’s Office, the Bolívar Governor’s Office and other institutions, but she only gets poor treatment and silence.
“I want to see them when elections come, that’s when they need us. That’s when they’re going to remember about us and our situation. That’s the only moment they stop mistreating the people.”
Marina Flores has been living in a sector known as La Cueva for almost 20 years. She says that, in the last 15 years, she’s signed up in no less than ten lists of projects for future relocations that have never left the paper: “I know their promises mean nothing.” She’s seen some people move out due to the floods, but she’s never seen anyone getting a definitive solution for their risky situation: “It’s cheaper for me to come back home, repair my things and prepare for the next flood.”
Sadly, due to the steep prices of building supplies and rent, the most viable solution for these families is getting back to their homes, even though they know that the neighboring river will someday reclaim its space and it’ll be time to flee, once again, until the tide ebbs.