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“It looks like a war zone”: in the community of Villa Esperanza de Salinas they will have to start from scratch

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Salinas. “This looks like a war zone.”

Those were the words that a resident of the Villa Esperanza community exclaimed when observing the damage caused by the Nigua River when it broke its course due to the torrential rains left by Hurricane Fiona.

His words were not an exaggeration, because in the surroundings of the street closest to the body of water, there was only rubble, destroyed vehicles, overturned construction machinery and shattered trailers.

The most shocking scene, however, was at the end of the road, where a residence collapsed next to the road.. The couple who lived in the structure survived, several residents of the area assured.

Behind the residence, a trailer owned by Gloria Marrero was located, who was still stunned by what the river caused. The camper that she bought with her husband four months ago, and to which they came every weekend from Caguas, was completely destroyed and dragged to the other end of the land they rented.

“We never imagined that this (the community) would be flooded in this way. Since what was coming was a storm, everything was fine, but on Sunday they gave us the news that the camper was destroyed. Nothing was left, everything was lost”described.

Marrero estimated that he lost about $35,000, but he hopes that the insurance he took out will answer him.

“My voice breaks not because of me, because I come for weekends, but here people lost what little they have with many sacrifices,” he said. “We came to this community, where the people are lovely, but it didn’t last long.”

Destruction by Hurricane Fiona in Villa Esperanza, in Salinas.
Destruction by Hurricane Fiona in Villa Esperanza, in Salinas. (Ramon “Tonito” Zayas)

A few steps from Marrero’s trailer was Ángel Luis Díaz, who did not go to a shelter and witnessed the rise of the river. He assured that the water “entered where he wants.” According to preliminary estimates from the National Meteorological Service (SNM), the Salinas area received between 20 to 25 inches of rain from Friday night to Monday morning.

“The river came out twice,” he said. “My fridge, washing machine and plant were damaged… they make you want to cry.”

A similar story lived Roberto Pérez Catalá, 61 years old, who with a construction machine removed the rubble that arrived in front of his home.

He assured that this is the first time that a flood of this magnitude has occurred in Villa Esperanza. The cause, in his opinion, is that some people invaded community land to place wagons. “They threw all the garbage into the river, the river was covered and exploded here (near his residence),” he detailed.

Pérez Catalá is dedicated to making mechanical “chivitos”, so around his house he has various heavy equipment, which has now been covered by rubble.

The footprint of the Nigua River

The Nigua River left its mark throughout Salinas, leaving hundreds of refugees at the Carlos Colón Burgos school, where as of this morning some 197 people were still on the list of victims.

Wanda Janet Ríos Colorado, president of the Las Margaritas Urbanization Residents Association, assured that this is the sixth time that the river has entered the residences of her community.

The development was built in 1977, but the first buyers were never notified that they would be residing in an area at risk of flooding, said the community leader.

When they know a storm or hurricane is coming, neighbors are quick to prepare. Among other things, they put their belongings on the beds and cover the doors with wood and silicone.

Still, the river wreaked havoc on the urbanization. In the case of Ríos Colorado, the woman was trapped for several hours in the residence of some elderly people she cared for, while the water rose in her mother’s house.

“In the street the water rose between five and six feet. A truck from the National Guard came and took my neighbors from across the street, ”he said about the rescues he witnessed.

Like Pérez Catalá, Ríos Colorado considered that the flooding of the Nigua River was historic, and therefore urged the Municipality of Salinas and the Department of Natural Resources to channel the body of water and avoid building structures around it.

“They continue to build next to the river, we (the community) continue to denounce it, but they do not pay attention to us,” he said.

The community leader’s claim was joined by Efraín Torres Torres, whose air conditioner repair shop, Los Hermanos Auto Air, was destroyed.

“I lost everything, because the impact of the water opened the back of the business and all the tools were gone,” he lamented. “The relevant agencies have to pick up the pace of channeling the river… if we channelize it, we may have more covered.”

The danger of the Nigua River in the midst of a storm or hurricane is exacerbated by storm surges in the Playa and Playita communities, where the Puerto Rico National Guard (GNPR) and the city council rescued dozens of people. Today, three days after the direct impact of the hurricane, residents and businesses were trying to start from scratch.

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