An ongoing emergency

First hand view from Guatemala, from Focolare member Lourdes Barrientos, who works in the national disaster agency CONRED. Faced with tragedy on such a large scale, she could not allow herself to be overwhelmed but holds on to “the importance of giving my all”.

The first eruptions of the Fuego Volcano on 3rd June were so violent that many inhabitants of the villages along its slopes did not have time to escape. The eruptions continued for days after, causing fast moving currents of mud, rubble and burning embers called “Lahar”, which descended from the volcano, covering and destroying all that lay in its path. It also provoked earth disturbances that felt like earthquakes. The National Coordination for Disaster Reduction, CONRED, confirmed a state of alert in three districts, providing updates on the numbers of displaced people and coordinating the generous offers of emergency accommodation by hostels and hotels in the vicinity.

Lourdes Barrientos is part of the CONRED team. She explained, «One of my responsibilities is to train and organize communities to respond to emergencies and natural disasters. Here we are in an emergency with so much suffering, loss of life and property in many families living near the volcano, especially in the communities of Chimaltenango, Escuintila e Sacatepéquez». These districts remain on red alert. As the number of people known to have died increases inexorably, the support response is coordinated from the CONRED headquarters in Guatemala City.

«I have to go beyond my exhaustion to complete all the different tasks assigned to me. At first I did not find it straight forward, because it felt like I was wasting time staying in the headquarters instead of helping the victims, my people, directly. My job, in fact, was to collect and collate as much information as possible from the stricken communities, to facilitate the response of the institutions who had to face all these huge problems.

It really got me down. My companions were active in the front line in places hit by the 3rd June eruptions, searching for bodies and helping the survivors. I knew how exhausted they were getting. I knew they were busy organizing emergency accommodation in the locality, while I was sitting in an office. At the same time, I was receiving endless messages from friends and well-wishers, from my family and Focolare friends, all asking if I was OK and if I was in the volcano zone. Suddenly I understood that wherever I was working, the important thing was to give all of myself, trying never to lose patience despite the nervous and physical exhaustion we were all experiencing.

We are all in the front line. I can offer all I’m doing for my companions who are out there, in particular for one who died during the rescue operation. Requests for information about the victims keep pouring in. There’s so much suffering and such great need. Many people are offering help, many hotels have opened their doors. The love of many people is arriving in practical ways. This is what gives us the strength to carry on».




  1. Bron Thompson

    Thank you for this great article.
    Yes! We are all on the front line. It can be so difficult during and in the aftermath of disasters when all one wants to do is be “out there amongst it” however without someone to capture the data lessons may not be able to be learnt as effectively and opportunities for improvement may be missed. Whether it be volcanoes, bushfires or cyclones when nature hits going beyond the frustration can be amazing.


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