Watching the newest world disaster, the annual flooding of the Mississippi Valley, made me think again of the flooding and landslides in Nova Friburgo early this year. I want to tell briefly what is happening here, even as the story unfolds in the USA.
Back in February, I wrote about Lucia and her daughter, and the loss of their homes in the area landslides in the early morning hours of the 13th of January. I don’t have the final numbers of loss of life or of number of homes lost, but I know that loss of life across this mountain region was over 1000 and homes lost over 12 thousand. For me though, the loss of life here in our small community was the most personal. Six people were lost here in this little community of 1500 or so. (Who knows – who has counted) and the homes both damaged and destroyed – now I am guessing – 25 or so. I guess this number because of the brothers, or cousins, or aunts of people we know personally, and have been told directly of these losses. This is not information to be found on the ‘prefeitura's’ (mayor’s) website, and definitely not to be found in the international or national news that were so hot on the stories up to the earthquake in New Zealand in the next month and went completely off the radar after the big quake in Japan last month. After that first month of shocking news, there hasn’t been much interest in how the little guy, the little stories are still unfolding.
Lucia and her daughter’s stories I do know. Lucia’s little house sat on a piece of land owned by her husband’s family. This house is where they lived during the raising of their 4 children. They started small, like most do around here, and added on as the family grew. The house, though solidly built, was never registered with the government. So is considered ‘illegal’. To register a house here costs between 3 and 5 thousand Reais, for someone like Lucia about a year’s salary. Her daughter’s home sat adjacent to her home.... I imagine the land was given to the daughter by Lucia and her husband, more than likely there was no paperwork done .... who need paperwork between family. Lucia’s husband died about 4 years ago at Christmas and the paperwork to put the house in her name has never been completed. She lost all her documents along with the house.
The civil police have declared her house completely destroyed, and the land, ‘unusable’, or in an area of high risk for homes. It can be used for a garden, for a business, but not a home. The government will not buy the lot. She can not sell it to another ‘forest’ family. To build again, she will need to try and find another piece of land.
Land starts at around R$15,000.00 for about 500 sq. meters. - 5 year’s salary - plus to build another very simple home – 100 sq. meters or so (around 900 sq. ft.) another 20 thousand. Because her home was ‘illegal’ and without documents there will not likely be help from the government. With help from some of our family and friends, both here and in the USA, we started a fund for her and were able to help her replace the basics of her household – beds and bedding, cooking and serving dishes, clothing and shoes, and to help pay some of the travel back and forth to Rio while here daughter was in the hospital, going through multiple surgeries and being treated for major infections. The daughter is finally home (a rented house) with her family.
For now Lucia is renting. The government will pay a rental allowance for the next year. The rented house is more than an hour away by bus from her work. There was nothing affordable available in this area. She still arrives here every Monday at 7am to clean our home.
We are still committed to helping her where we can, but tread softly as to not make her feel dependent or obligated. If she decides to buy and rebuild someplace, we will contribute as we can, to give her some support but there are so many, there is so much need – we can only help the ones we know the best – and the worlds interest has moved on, the governments seems to have forgotten now that the photo ops are no longer here. The most help will come from neighbor helping neighbor and from their own considerable personal strength.