Guatemala is in mourning and urgently needs help.
The Volcán de Fuego (Volcano of Fire) in Guatemala—just 30 miles from the capital—erupted on Sunday leaving more than 1.7 million people affected, over a hundred people dead, including several children, and at least 200 missing, authorities said.
The eruption, the second this year according to the National Coordinator for Disaster Reduction in Guatemala (Conred), occurred around 4 p.m. on Sunday, sending lava, toxic gases and large plumes of smoke that reached over 10,000 meters in height, to the populations near the volcano and covering everything with ash in a perimeter of at least 20 kilometers, with probability that the wind moved it to a greater distance.
Most of the victims are from the village of El Rodeo, in the region of Escuintla, on the slopes of the volcano, authorities said.
The government, lead by President Jimmy Morales, declared a state of emergency and the National Coordinator for Disaster Reductions (Conred) said that alerts at red level continue to be active in several municipalities.
On the East End, where there are a large number of Guatemalans, the news has shocked the community. Many have desperately called their families asking if they were okay, others have not yet managed to locate their family and friends, while others are mourning the tragedy.
“You feel your heart breaking, whether you’re Guatemalan or not, if you see those terrible images, your heart shatters seeing what these people are going through,” Patchogue resident Rafael Reyes said.
Since Monday, dozens of people, of all nationalities, have mobilized throughout the county to help the victims and get the help Guatemala desperately needs.
“They are ready to give the support to Guatemalans, who sadly lost all or part of their families, and it’s a really difficult time that Guatemala is going through. There’s nothing more to do but thank the Guatemalans who set an example of effort, work, dedication, energy and of course, now it’s the time to unite,” Guatemalan Consul in New York Pedro Tzunun said.
Social media has been key to spread the word and several collection centers have already been designated for donations in Suffolk County. There are also several GoFundMe campaigns and donations to charity organized to help victims. A radiothon is also scheduled for this Sunday at La Fiesta 98.5FM, where live DJ’s will be raising awareness and telling people where to go to make donations.
In Riverhead, most of the Riverhead Soccer League teams have players from different areas of Guatemala and when they heard what happened, they asked the president, Edgar Villafranco—who has previous experience organizing aid campaigns— to help coordinate something in order to aid the victims.
“Many of the teams approached me, and through soccer and our community here, we have decided to raise funds to help those affected [by the volcano],” said Villafranco, who is from El Salvador, and plans to personally travel to Guatemala this Thursday.
There, he will meet with Luis Fernando Cruz, who was a resident of Riverhead for many years and keeps in touch with “La Liga de Fútbol de Riverhead” (Riverhead Soccer League).
Cruz and Villafranco said that shipping the donations would be too expensive, which is why Villafranco will travel with extra luggage and will use the money they raised to buy products directly in Guatemala or El Salvador after assessing the needs of people in the ground. Then Villafranco said they will go to deliver all the donations directly to the shelters themselves.
But first, said Villafranco, the plan is to raise the necessary funds.
On Saturday there will be a barbecue at his home in Flanders, where everyone is invited. The food, which will be sold by the plate, will be donated by Quick Stop Deli.
On Sunday they plan to receive donations and collect more funds on the soccer field, located at Stotzky Park. They will also raffle a new Iphone 8, ticket will cost $20, and new soccer cleats, ticket will cost $10.
“I hope a lot of people will come and we can raise more money,” said Villafranco. “I will record every step we take on Facebook Live so that people can see where their money is going and how we are going to help there, in Guatemala.”
Among the many people who are contributing, Reyes and his wife Angelica, Guatemalan residents of Patchogue, have coordinated with Eric Arias, owner of Transportes Arias, William Pinto, founder of Willie’s Appliances and the radio station La Fiesta 98.5FM, a radio marathon for this Sunday.
All donations collected at the different collection centers, from Southampton, Hampton Bays and Riverhead to Ronkonkoma and Brentwood, will be transported by truck to a container that will leave for Guatemala between June 19 and 24, Reyes said.
Once in Guatemala, the nonprofit organization Sergio Paiz Andrade Foundation, will help with the distribution and logistics, said Reyes.
“When you are far away you just want to go help as soon and as fast as possible and do something, but the only thing that we can do is organize and help in some way for these victims that have been so terribly affected and have lost almost everything,” he said.
Reyes said that if necessary, he and his wife Angelica will travel to Guatemala when the container arrives there to help with the coordination and other procedures.
“Our priority is that everything is delivered to the shelters directly, we want to make sure that donations get delivered where they’re supposed to,” said Reyes.
To see a complete list of what, where and how to donate, click here.
Local residents band together to help the victims of the volcano in Guatemala