Red Cedar supports families who lost loved ones in Mexican mudslides

sbowman@beaufortgazette.comOctober 6, 2013 

mexico

Irma Gomez and her camera-shy daughter, Leslie, are shown in this photo taken Thursday at Red Cedar Elementary School in Bluffton. The Gomez-Muldonado family lost several family members in a recent massive mudslide in Mexico.

SARAH BOWMAN — Sarah Bowman, staff photo Buy Photo

The rain just wouldn't stop, like buckets of water being dumped on the roof.

The Gomez Muldonado family had noticed the river behind their house in Mexico swelling, and tried to take precautions.

They packed their car with essentials so they could get away quickly. They slept at the nearby coffee plantation at night rather than their house.

But in the end, it didn't matter.

At about 3 p.m. Sept. 16, days of rain from Tropical Storm Manuel caused a mudslide that buried half of the small, coffee-growing town of La Pintada.

Although the tragedy occurred more than 2,000 miles away, its heartbreak and loss have overwhelmed families in Bluffton. Irma Gomez, who moved from La Pintada 13 years ago, lost 20 relatives in the mudslide. Among them were her mother, father and two brothers.

"It is very sad and devastating because they lost everything and we lost everything," Gomez, 31, said through a translator. "We don't know if we ever are going to be able to go back there."

Gomez's family is not the only one struck by the disaster.

The assistant principal at Red Cedar Elementary School, where one of Gomez's children is enrolled, said at least three local families were directly affected. But the number of people touched indirectly is much higher, she said.

Gomez first learned of the disaster on Facebook since no communication was coming from the town. She didn't want to believe it was true at first, she said.

But after talking to her brother, Jose Antonio, who was not in the house at the time and survived, reality started to set in.

"We try to find peace, but we can't," Gomez said of several of her brothers and sisters who also live in the Bluffton area. "We still hold on to the hope that somebody is still alive, but every day that passes takes away that hope."

'NADA, NADA'

As soon as she learned of the mudslide, Gomez called every aid organization she could think of to tell them there were people who needed help and ask what was being done.

She said she kept getting the same answer: "We're working on it."

But later Gomez heard from her brother and other survivors that the help never came.

She said she kept hearing: "We're hungry; we're cold; we have injured people, and we don't have any help."

Three days had gone by and still there was no relief for La Pintada, a town of 800 in the southwest Guerrero state of Mexico. The dead number more than 100, and more than 60 people are declared missing.

"There was nothing, no help," Gomez said. "Nada, nada."

Finally, on the fourth day, some help arrived. But not for long, she said.

Only eight bodies were recovered before the authorities departed again, Gomez said.

"I cannot sleep at night because we feel powerless, because we cannot go there and can't do anything from here," Gomez said. "We would like to go and dig with our own hands."

GETTING HELP

Red Cedar Elementary School is trying to help the families and the town.

Starting this week the school's Kindness Club will collect coins and donations from students and the community, assistant principal Melissa Vogt said.

"Even though it is many thousands of miles away, people are directly and indirectly affected right here in our community," Vogt said. "So the school is trying to provide that stable environment while supporting our families."

Vogt said collections will begin Tuesday or Wednesday and will last a week. The school then will send what it gathers to the Red Cross in Mexico, she said. Residents who wish to donate to the cause should email Audrey Kaney, adviser for the Kindness Club at Red Cedar Elementary at audrey.kaney@beaufort.k12.sc.us.

Gomez said La Pintada was a small, beautiful and tranquil town. She was born and grew up there.

It will never be the same, she said, but maybe it can be rebuilt.

"We have never had anything like this happen, and we lost the town and we lost our families," she said.

Follow reporter Sarah Bowman at twitter.com/IPBG_Sarah.

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