Dennis and Cindy McCutcheon manage Vine's distribution system in Guatemala. This is Dennis' report from the first two weeks after the Fuego volcano erupted on June 3.
Sunday, June 3rd, we noticed how dark it had become. No thunder or lightning. We went outside checking news on phones. Volcano Fuego had erupted with a column of gases, and super-heated ash shot over 30,000-feet into the sky, casting a 33-mile shadow. When that column collapsed, pyroclastic flows shot down the side of the volcano following the valleys at 1300 F and a flow rate of 400 mph. No flesh in the direct path survives. Two rescue workers, in their vehicle with their climbing gear, simply disappeared in one of these events. They haven’t been found yet. The numbers are conflicting: over 100 confirmed dead, 190 missing, 5,000 displaced, according to government officials. Local school teachers report 10,000 students are without classrooms now. One teacher reported they are looking for over 300 students. Fire/rescue teams believe the number of people buried in the ash may be greater than 1,000.
From our medical aid warehouse near Guatemala City, Vine International quickly moved all appropriate aid into the hands of the bomberos working at ground zero. That included dressing material, tape, and burn dressings from a donation from DeRoyal in Knoxville TN. We were blessed with a cash donation from a US family that happened to be in-country and went to work being specific in our response. Vine’s daily work is to supply and donate tons of medical aid to over 100 partner medical projects throughout the country, and several responded immediately. One of these, a US doctor, was turned away by authorities and has met continued resistance to his offers to help. However, just this morning, we connected him to a ‘back door’ with one of our national partners. Another offer by a national doctor (and one of our partners), along with his team, were accepted. Still another from 4 hours away was there ahead of the government and they couldn’t make him leave. He’s quite been quite a force to be reckoned with. That first afternoon, he was one of 3 doctors actively treating patients, triaging, and providing appropriate medical aid in the central square of Alotenango -- located on the skirt of the volcano. Bomberos (volunteers mostly) came from all over the country. To help them, we purchased baby food, bottles, and diapers, medicines specific to the acute need, hard hats, work gloves, back packs, basic climbing gear, and ropes.
Help came from Japan, Israel, and I saw a team from Honduras arrive with ice cream (impressive). A climbing team of Mexican bomberos raced to the site from Chiapas before the government closed the border to aid early in the week. I understand it’s now open. Cuba sent medical help and the Shriners Hospital (TX) received some burned children.
Saturday we made another delivery to the bomberos. They asked us to take the baby food and children’s things to a church on the corner of town square church. The pastor’s first concern was that the food be delivered to areas where the need was greatest and the distribution would be effective. His town had some food but was struggling to get it out to the right people. So we pressed on, around the mountain, and put it into hands that would get it to a point of need.
The climbing gear was received with emotion. At last check yesterday the two missing bomberos had not been found. Dr. Jose took some donation funds we gave him for his transportation and instead bought Kevlar gloves and asbestos reinforced protective sleeves. Even a week after the event, the ash, 2-feet down, was burning the arms of the bomberos as they worked to retrieve bodies. Ash depth in ravines was estimated at 20-feet in places. It will take weeks, maybe months for the mass to cool.
The Big Picture: Vine is working a 3-part plan. (1) Keeping our ear to the ground and responding by purchasing items we can procure in Guatemala in order to quickly meet specific medical needs from our project partners. (2) Restocking our nearby distribution warehouse and continuing to respond to partners’ urgent needs by replenishing many of the supplies they need. To do that, Vine will be shipping 40-foot ocean containers from our Knoxville, TN warehouse. Currently, one is loading on June 20, with another scheduled for June 28. From a multitude of US resource partners, we’ll be loading tons of aid, including, rescue worker back boards, dressing supplies, ace wraps, orthopedic splints, IV supplies, stethoscopes, blood-pressure cuffs, oxygen tanks for treatment and transport, and nebulizers, along with exam and surgical gloves and dust masks. We’ll also need surgical masks, suture material (3-0, 4-0 nylon, absorbable), and betadine, just to mention a few of the needs. Two of our largest resource partners -- Samaritan’s Purse and MAP International -- are also working with Vine to fill these huge containers to ship. This part of the story alone could be a full-length action adventure book. (3) We are planning to cache materials to be able to respond with immediacy at the next event somewhere in the Central America region. Vine knows that in this part of the world, it’s not a matter of “if” – but just a matter if “when.” Older Guatemalans remind us that the last major Fuego eruption preceded (by 2 years) one of the worse earthquakes in the country’s history when 20,000+ people died in in the Capital in 1975 . For 25 years, Vine has been doing medical relief in Guatemala, in Christ’s name, and we intend to be ready, whatever comes – so stay tuned.