By Max Sundqvist —
Trujillo is not in the news as much as Piura and Tumbes, but this north coast town is also facing the season’s unusually heavy rains and floods.
TRUJILLO, PERU. The streets of Trujillo, Peru’s third largest city, lie desolate and the destruction is breathtaking. Last Monday, at midday, flood waters reached the city center for the sixth time in less than a week. This time the force of the flood was unprecedented. The main square – Plaza de Armas – was flooded and many streets saw enough water to resemble rivers.
The problem is not over when the water eventually goes away. The floods leave vast amounts of dry river mud in their tracks and as it dries the air quickly fills with dust. Breathing becomes difficult and even painful. Traffic is severely restricted and the otherwise cheerful city, known for its beneficent climate, closely resembles a city at war and under siege. Trying to take a taxi somewhere is like buying a lottery ticket – sometimes the driver can´t take you somewhere because of flood water, or else it’s because of the levees built by residents trying to keep water out, cutting streets off from the flow of traffic. As businesses close and sandbags fill the entry of nearly every house, it is evident that the implications of this natural disaster are huge.
Struck by huaicos
So far Trujillo has been struck six times by huaicos, the Quechua term used to describe the flash floods from heavy rain that bring water, mud and stones down from the mountainsides with tremendous force and speed, dragging down everything caught in their path and causing damage wherever they flow. Although it is a fairly normal occurrence during the rainy season in the Andes, the extreme downpours this season have so far caused at least 600 huaicos, when the usual number is hardly more than 60 per year.
El Porvenir — A neighborhood nearly destroyed
El Porvenir – a poor shanty town district of Trujillo – is where Quebrada San Idelfonso is located, the gulley and epicentre of a major flood. Here several houses were destroyed completely by flood water while vehicles, houses, gardens and animals were covered in several meters of mud. Residents have protested the lack of concern and support from authorities. Many here have lost everything – the desolation and desperation of residents is moving.
No water in the city
In the aftermath of the flooding the city´s water supply was shut down as the main network from the Chavimochic irrigation system was destroyed by floods. This irrigation system – supplying water to thousands of hectares of farmland – also feeds into the city´s fresh water supply. The damage has been a heavy blow to Trujillo’s population, already under pressure. At the moment, people are receiving water for basic needs from tanker trucks that reach the neighbourhoods sporadically. The authorities claimed that they would be able to repair and re-establish the water supply by Saturday, last weekend. But there is no sign of water as yet.
No link to Lima
The Panamericana Norte Highway has lost the bridge that crosses the Viru River, cutting off Trujillo´s connection to the nearby city of Chimbote and further south to Lima. This is causing problems in the logistics and residents have been witnessing the gradual decrease of goods in local supermarkets and markets.
No end to the floods yet in sight
Senamhi, the meteorological institute, has predicted that this coastal Niño phenomenon, or the El Niño-Costero — caused by the high surface temperature of the Pacific Ocean centered on the coast of Peru and Ecuador — is not over yet. Even though the intensity might decrease slightly over the next few days, rainfall is still expected along the entire Peruvian coast for several more weeks.
Can this be a new start?
The destruction to the infrastructure in Trujillo is a sad sight. Gardens, parks, avenues are all filled with dust, mud, filth, dead rats, garbage, destroyed trees. The work ahead to rebuild the city is of an unprecedented magnitude.
The damage caused by the extreme rainfalls also poses the probing question of infrastructure, social responsibility and corruption. Perhaps this time authorities, and the general public, will take the opportunity not only to rebuild the city but to undertake a reconstruction of the social model. Trujillo has lost a great deal, but this is not a bad thing. Even when the destruction is breathtaking, there is a glimpse of solidarity and reflection as residents pick up the pieces of what their lives and the city itself were before this summer.