Community Rallies To Help Locals Hit By Lidia

A month after the storm, many in the arroyos are still trying to rebuild
BY: KATE NEAL

Tropical Storm Lidia came through Cabo like a wrecking ball on August 31st delivering a one-two sucker punch as high rains caused massive mudslides. With 12 inches of rain (more or less; some areas got a lot more, some got less) descending on the area within a 24-hour period, we saw more of the wet stuff in that time frame than we’d seen in 84 years. 

recons.JPGThe downtown area was cleaned up quickly, with business owners out the very next day sweeping and restoring everything for those who drive our economy: the tourists. Getting the highway ship shape took a little longer, but it was still less than 10 days before things were mostly back to normal.

But those areas taking the hardest hit from the storm have taken much longer to pick up and dust off. The many barrios located on the outskirts of town have seen some of the most heart breaking losses, with cars, thousands of homes, and even people swept away by the water.

The barrios are communities built on sand in the dry river beds of the arroyos are cheap landscape for families, some of whom earn as little as $17 USD a day. It was no surprise that these areas would be affected, as they’re designed to provide drainage for the seasonal rains. The surprise was the amount of rainfall, and the pounding the arroyos took as a result.

While some schools in both San Jose and Cabo sheltered some displaced people during the storm, some locals are frustrated at the lack of public assistance post-Lidia. In the first week, thousands of liters of milk and water were distributed, and the military was seen at least once handing out toiletries and canned food, but additional efforts have been absent, according to those living in the arroyos. And so, many families living in the poor conditions of the barrios have relied on the community.

It is worth noting, however, that it is illegal to set up housekeeping in and near the arroyos, and before Lidia hit, officials went door to door, trying to get these people to move. Many would not.

The Cabo community helped these barrio families by organizing multiple donation drives. Efforts to provide and distribute food, clothing, and supplies to the barrios became a daily undertaking. One volunteer even haggled over the price of kids’ tee-shirts at Walmart, making a deal with the manager to buy the entire rack of them on the spot at a 50% discount.

Locals cooked up enough food in their own kitchens to feed several hundred people a day. Wicked Pizza gave pies and more pies, as ongoing trips to the edges of town were organized. Sissy Plemons, the owner of Bajo La Luna, offered up the restaurant’s kitchen for volunteers to prepare meals to deliver.

Lines of cars paraded through the designated neighborhoods, each filled with items to hand out. The neighborhoods came alive as the cars passed, with barefoot children and skinny dogs chasing the dust kicked up by the meals on wheels. Lines were formed, food and water served, and even the dogs were fed. And, as hard as it might be to believe, laughter was heard all around.

recons2.JPGThat last part is what’s amazing, given these peoples’ circumstances. Most are living in slapped together, makeshift homes made of cinderblocks and found materials like corrugated metal or whatever wood they can find. (A lot of pallets are pressed into service). This is as it was before the storm, and many of these shacks were washed away with the rain. The people are rebuilding the same homes in the same spaces, knowing full well that there are likely more storms ahead.

The daily supply excursions to the barrios have reignited discussion about a long-term solution to the problem in the barrios, with communal kitchens and donation centers the ideas most talked about as the keys to change. Some have criticized handing out free food as a permanent fix, concerned that constantly giving could result in a handout mentality among the barrio residents. But, in this case, the objective of temporary assistance is working, with fewer people lining up for handouts as the weeks have passed.

Fewer people are volunteering as well. Most organized efforts were meant to be temporary or just a one-time thing, but there is still one group that plans to deliver supplies for the foreseeable future. The daily trips are now down to three times a week, with volunteers meeting most Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays at Tanga Tanga (in front of Tersoro on the main drag) at 4:00 p.m. If you want to help, just show up.

If you’re interested in donating to the ongoing cause for Lidia relief, visit www.gofundme.com/lifeafterlidia.