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“Let’s move forward”: While repairing damages for Iota, Colombian survivors promise a new beginning

By Javier Andrés Rojas

BOGOTA, Nov 21 (.) – As Category 5 hurricane Iota roared over the small Colombian island of Providencia in the early hours of Monday morning, Yeisler Chamorro and his wife huddled under a mattress in their bedroom.

Almost all of the infrastructure on the island inhabited by some 6,000 people near the Central American coast was damaged or destroyed by the storm, which rained debris on Chamorro, 29.

“In my case, I can say that I was saved by my mat,” Chamorro said, as he showed a . reporter the temporary repairs he had made to the ceiling of the room. “Things were falling on us, debris and everything, but thank God we survived, the material, that is recovered later, the important thing right now is life.”

Iota winds and heavy rains killed about 40 people in Central America and Colombia, including at least two in Providencia.

In Nicaragua, it flooded low-lying areas still reeling from the impact of Eta two weeks ago, another major hurricane that killed dozens of people in the region.

“When I got up and looked over there (pointing in the direction of neighboring houses) the first impression I had was that the neighbors were dead,” said Chamorro, an air conditioning technician.

“I went out walking like that against the breeze, I had to go out like this to see how the rest of the family was, because when I arrived I realized that everyone was alive,” he added.

Many residents are still shocked by the destruction, said the islander, who is committed to rebuilding.

“Let’s fight and get ahead, this is a new beginning,” he said. “More than asking God why? We must thank him that we are alive.”

The Colombian government has accredited a system of alerts and shelters for the low number of deaths on the island, whose residents speak a Creole language in addition to Spanish.

San Andrés, the largest island in the same archipelago and also damaged by the storm, has become a destination for hundreds of evacuees from Providencia seeking to reunite with family members.

(Report by Javier Andrés Rojas, written by Julia Symmes Cobb, translated by Nelson Bocanegra)