Fish in the patios and food delivery by kayak: Loíza lives another terrible episode of floods

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Loiza. “The fish from the river have arrived at the houses… imagine the magnitude of this flood.”

This is how Don Jorge Padilla exclaimed from his balcony, who has lived for 50 years in the Villa Santos community of Loizaone of the most vulnerable to flooding, particularly when the gates of Lake Carraízo open and the Río Grande de Loíza overflows its banks.

“Look at them, they’re not lax,” adds the man, pointing to some little fish that swim in his yard. A girl who accompanies him tries to catch one with a mesh.

The scene is surreal for any visitor. But for the residents of the neighborhood, the accumulation of up to four feet of water has become a constant when severe floods are announced for the region. That scenario was exacerbated by Hurricane Fiona, which left up to 30 inches of rain in some regions of the island.

“Oh, blessed mija, this floods all the time and it has gotten worse with the construction of a grassy site that they built in San Isidro, in Canovanas. It is true that the water gets in a lot, but this has been out of control for a few years,” says Jacinto Fuentes, another of the residents.

One of the flooded houses in the Villa Santos community in Loíza.
One of the flooded houses in the Villa Santos community in Loíza. (Ramon “Tonito” Zayas)

The people of Villa Santos, where some 129 families live, including 10 bedridden, have been totally incommunicado for two days, since access can only be done by trucks, rafts or walking on foot through runoff with the health risks that this it implies.

Two days have passed since the rains linked to Hurricane Fiona hit the area. Hunger strikes and people like Carlos Matos use a kayak to transport food to some residences. A child, in his innocence, is part of the adventure and goes on board the device, on top of some packages of rice that he, probably, would eat later.

“It’s difficult, but we have to do it… we have to help each other,” exclaimed Matos.

Aquilino Pizarro, one of the rescuers who works for the Emergency Management office in Loíza, explains that the Villa Santos scenario is replicated in other communities such as Miñi Miñi, Los Vizcarrondo, Las Batatas, Melilla and Toledo, among others.

“These are communities that are easily flooded by situations of intense rain, but this time they affect the waters that flow through the Grande de Loíza River due to the opening of the Carraízo Lake floodgates. That is why they see that the entire community is under at least two or three feet of water,” he said, confirming the version of neighbors.

Pizarro explained that one way to mitigate the damage is by placing pumping systems to suck up the water. In fact, through the rainwater suction services due to the rains and floods, 45,000 gallons were collected in just over one day in the Miñi Miñi sector and 10,000 gallons in the Los Sánchez sector.

Mayor Julia Nazario still does not have a census of residences affected by floods or the winds of Hurricane Fiona, since it is a process that they are beginning to count this week. She noted that the main thing now is to attend to the situations that the residents of the isolated neighborhoods are going through, since many of them have had to be rescued and transferred to shelters or to the homes of relatives.

On the other hand, he estimated that in a three-day period, some $7,000 had to be invested in layers, boots, reflective vests, hand saws, among other equipment.

The municipal executive added that, to date, physical plant damage has been identified in the City Hall, where offices were flooded and ceilings fell, affecting office equipment.

Five years ago, with the devastating scourge of hurricanes Irma and María, Loíza was destroyed. In the town of nearly 30,000 people, some 600 families had to be evicted amid the chaos. Almost 3,000 houses were damaged and of these about 600 lost their roofs. After María, the people of Loíce showed a great fighting spirit, even in the midst of the dire conditions in which many of its residents subsist.

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