Chiriqui Flooding 2020 The Human Side of Disaster.

David Dell

By David Dell

“Emerald” a flood refugee sits on the side of her bed in a baseball stadium. Unaware that her home may been been destroyed. Her joy; she has a balloon.

I found the lack of international media cover of the Chiriqui flood disasters disappointing. I had covered several storms in the Volcan area over the years. I had seen the devastation and the bodies on the side of the road. I had also seen that these rogue weather events were increasing in frequency and severity.

Police officer during the floods

In the 2014 flood a Female victim waits to be loaded onto a vehicle.

As writers and journalists if you bring up climate change or global warming, some people suspect you have a political agenda. Why the lack of coverage in the international media? I don’t know, perhaps the shenanigans of the departing US president are more newsworthy than news of people being drowning in a sea of mud in some developing country.

Church after flooding

Bambito Catholic Church after storm in 2020. Courtesy: FaceBook.

I can only accurately report on what I see locally. In 1970 there was a disastrous storm on the Chiriqui Viejo River. Thirty-eight years later in 2008, the same river overflowed but this time the damage was more severe. Forty homes destroyed and 4 people lost their lives. I took a picture of the local Catholic church that had its altar and wall torn away in the flood. In 2014 in August, once again the storms came, huge devastation, home destroyed lives lost. In 2020, the mother of all storms strikes again and that same Catholic Church damaged in almost the same way.

baseball stadium

Pictured above: Puerto Armuelles new baseball stadium. Home to some of the flood victims.

Today in a School and a stadium in Puerto Armuelles I saw dozens of victims of nature’s latest onslaught. The youngest victim was a 14-day old baby (Deyanis), -born during the flood and her mother (Loreici).

Woman and child

They were in the press room of Puerto’s brand-new and so far never-been-used baseball stadium. In another were two tiny children. Their parents had lost their homes. But these two toddlers were oblivious to the real world tragedy that surrounded them- they had happiness because they had balloons.

two kids with ballons

Woman with her belingins

CARMEL GONZALEZ said she had lost everything.

Teenagers with her belingins

Teenagers Leo, Pasillio and Eliseo wait patiently in a Puerto Armuelles school. They said the waters were 8 feet high.

Part of the journalistic 5 “W’s” is the “how”. (Who, what, when, where and How) except the how, should now be “How, do we prevent this from happening again?”

According to an LA PRENSA article of November 24 2020. Emergency services and land management officials, discussed the possibility the BAMBITO area, be declared an uninhabitable zone.

The flooding in the areas north of Puerto Armuelles are claimed to be the result of hydroelectric people releasing waters from their dams. Locals say this came about without them being told. One woman, Michaela Palacios from Majagual, said she was awoken at 2:00 a.m. by a neighbor and told to flee. Several of the survivors say their homes were flooded between 8 and 10 feet. Palacio, and her neighbours live in areas close to the banks of the Chiriqui Viejo River.

The floods effected some 400 people from San Pedro, San Valentin, Majagual and other areas along the RIO COLORADO canal. Michaela Palacios does not blame the floods on global warming but more on the water release from the dam. But here we have a classic chicken and egg scenario. Did global warming and climate change come first and cause the dangerous floodwaters to build up behind the dams. And thereby force the engineers to release the pressure?

Pictured below: Nature at its most terrifying; water cascades down a hill north of Cerro Punta. The common thread through most interviews is that the weather events are getting bigger and happening more frequently. This event was fallout from Hurricane ETA.

Picture courtesy: FaceBook.

Overflowed river

The efforts of the Panamanian emergency services are wonderful. I have seen their swift and professional response on several occasions. In the 2014 Bambito floods, large excavators and earthmoving equipment were moving to the effected areas within hours of the disaster. Video footage from the 2020 floods show the same high level of response.

Will local and national leaders decide that certain areas of Chiriqui province are simply “Unlivable.”

Or will we again see, in a few short years, these same poor, unfortunate people huddled in schools, stadiums and church pews, refugees from yet another, regular, natural disaster.

In a quote from author MARK TWAIN he said “Everyone complains about the weather but nobody does anything about it.”

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