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I remember that it was a Thursday when it began to drizzle. At that moment we heard over the radio that a very powerful hurricane was approaching. The media were alerting the people to take refuge in the provisionally designated shelters, but, unfortunately, we didn’t pay them much heed. We never imagined the magnitude of the disaster that the hurricane would cause. As Hurricane Mitch gathered more force, we felt afraid.

However, it was already too late to go to take refuge in the shelters because the water had already risen up to our necks and the force of the wind was leveling trees, homes, cars and everything else it found in its path.

I remember how, in our desperation, we tried to leave the house to save ourselves, how we saw a metal sheet ripped off the roof of another house decapitate a woman who had gone out into the middle of the water.

At that time we fled the house. My husband managed to make it to a tree trunk that was floating along in the water. Grabbing on to it, we clung to the trunk and let the current carry us. When below us we saw a very tall tree, it occurred to my husband that we could climb it to save ourselves. With much effort, we did manage to climb it, tying up our son so that he wouldn’t fall into the water. It got dark. The tremendous cold made our bodies tremble. Our wet clothes stuck to us and without any blanket to cover us from the oppressive cold, we thought we would die.

In this way, and without a bite to eat, we spent four long days. We survived only on the dirty water I managed to trap by submerging my sweater in the water and squeezing it into our mouths. And although this could have given us an infection, since the current was carrying dead bodies, trash, mud and dead animals, I knew this this was the only way to survive.

As we abandoned ourselves to God, the fourth day arrived. Parched and starving, we discovered a rescue helicopter from Belize. Upon seeing it, my husband began to make signs until they saw us and thus rescued us. When we returned to the land, we saw pure mud and countless bodies-there were more dead than alive. When the help sent by the Queen of England through Belize arrived, the soldiers who were helping saw that with so many dead, they couldn’t work, and that there would be much disease. They excavated a giant tomb, piled the bodies together and buried them beneath the earth.

We got to a shelter and there we tried to find our relatives– without any success. Seeing that we were totally alone and without a house, or any of our possessions, we decided to emigrate to the United States.

Without a cent in our pockets and only with the help of God, we arrived by helicopter in Belize. There my husband worked for a week.

With that little bit of money and however we could, we got to the capital of Mexico. There my husband worked another week, even though he was sick. I went to work for two weeks. The woman for whom I worked, upon seeing me so helpless and resigned to my situation, took pity on me and gave us enough money for my son and me to travel. By putting it together with what we had already earned, we were able to make it to Matamoros.

We again found ourselves without money and saw the need to ask for money in the port so we could eat. Nevertheless, God was with us, because there in Matamoros we met a woman named Carmen who gave us shelter for two weeks. She was a good, noble person who helped us a great deal. For these reasons we decided to leave our son with her because the Migra had already forced us back several times. Our son was very frightened after having been in the hurricane. Moreover, he suffers from athsma. We didn’t want him to risk crossing the river because he could get sicker, even to the point of suffocating. Meanwhile, my husband and I tried again to cross the river and this time we made it. Later, we were able to get to the bus terminal. There was no option but to risk again and travel on the bus.

During the trip the Migra came on board and asked my husband many questions. Because he could speak English (he lived before in Belize), this time they let us through without problems. But everyone else who was on the bus was forced off and taken to Immigration. In this very difficult and sad way we were able to get here to Casa Juan Diego.

We don’t have a single penny, but yes, we do have a great desire to work and move forward. We want go back for our son and finally be together again.

However, the experiences we lived through will probably stay with us for a long time, because it isn’t easy to survive a tragedy like this.

Recorded by Noé and Yolanda Ramirez and translated by Megan Ferstenfeld.

Houston Catholic Worker, Vol. XIX, No. 1, January-February 1999.