JUCHITAN, Mexico – An artificial pine tree is the only thing suggesting that Christmas is coming in many homes in southern Mexico’s Isthmus of Tehuantepec, where thousands of people will spend the holiday without a home and without presents after devastating earthquakes struck the region in September.
The quakes of Sept. 7 and Sept. 19 left some 250,000 people homeless, not to mention killing at least 471 and leaving some 12 million people throughout central and southern Mexico with property damage.
Just in Juchitan de Zaragoza, one of Mexico’s poorest areas, some 40 people lost their lives and thousands of others were made homeless.
The magnitude-8.2 temblor of Sept. 7 spurred hundreds of families to leave the area in search of greater safety, but the majority remained and has been putting up with some 10,000 aftershocks since that time.
Rosa Elba Aquino is one of the roughly 70,000 homeless people in the zone. She has received some 15,000 pesos – about $760 – in government support to rebuild her house, although that amount is not nearly enough to replace what she and her family lost.
“In reality, it’s my mother’s house. (My two children and I) live with her, but I support the household by selling jellies, yogurt and breakfasts. My mother is 81 and has a heart problem. She built her house with the money from selling the ranch she inherited from her father. Now everything’s destroyed,” Aquino told EFE.
She and her family are living in the only portion of the house that remained after the quake, a room that was under construction.
From among the ruins, her daughter rescued the Christmas tree, and they hung some lights on it but have been unable to light them because electricity still has not been restored in the area.
“We won’t make dinner, there’s nothing to make it with. The money I earn is barely enough for our daily food. We’ll spend Christmas Eve in the home of my daughter-in-law. The important thing is to be together,” she said.
The Nueva Vida shelter houses 63 people, including 13 children and several elderly people who have practically become a new family over the past three-and-a-half months, but this Christmas there will be no traditional dinner.
“Just snacks,” Joyce Antonio Lopez Sanchez, the coordinator of the shelter, told EFE.
Although government aid has begun to dry up or slow down, it has not been cancelled. And this raises spirits somewhat.
Local radio host Geovanni Santiago, known as DJ Delta, has organized a Christmas party for the children with music, cartoon characters, candy and toys.
“There are kids who are very sad because they don’t have a house and they’ve said that they’re worried that Santa Claus will not bring them any presents,” he said.
But despite the tough situation, there are Christmas displays and toys set out along the city’s main avenue and the streets are beginning to come back to life. On Christmas Eve there will be fireworks. A rain of color, paper and gunpowder to drive away – for at least one night – people’s problems.