By Genesis Carrero Soto.
Photos by Ronald Peña.
A year has passed since the first cracks appeared in some houses and cement stairs, built by neighbors, that reached into the upper part of Santo Niño, a neighborhood located in the El Campito sector of Petare.
Since then, no effort has been sufficient to avoid the collapse of nine buildings, so far, as many others are unsound, at times shaking and creaking under the indifferent gaze of the authorities. Houses in different sections of Petare began collapsing in 2019. But the trend has accelerated this year.
Petare is strictly DIY. Neighbors have built the place, exposed red brick houses without having the professionally assessed. They use the roof of the neighbors as floor and its outer wall as your inner one, plus a vast network of cement staircases and gangways that weight the mountain down, all of that without sewers, running water, or electricity service. Tapping power lines or lampposts is standard practice, and the titularity of the land does not exist.
The last two collapsed on the night of Sunday, September 8, under a downpour of rain. Some household items got rescued others, got buried in the rubble, such as the belongings of the Jose Rojas family, who for 25 years lived in a rented apartment in the five-story structure that collapsed recently. He was negotiating the purchase of said property to give it to his three children, aged ten months and seven and eight years, and his wife, a home of their own.
Jose has packed up what he managed to salvage, and even when he could no go out at a time, he was willing to go to a shelter. He says he can still hear the crunch of the foundations of the house.
That night of August 8, around 10:00 pm, he and his family only managed to get out two suitcases and two bags, the rest, walled up under the rubble. The building split in two, a part of which was left hanging from the previous structure, a seven-story building.
Just like when another house collapsed, parts of the house of Irene Castillo and Jonathan Serrano fell with it. Irene says some 60 families have been affected by recent collapses, while some 300 are in imminent danger.
Governor Hector Rodriguez is offering to send Petare dwellers to other areas, but some neighbors that have relocated to those sectors say they are even less secure and more crowded.
Some neighbors are moving out, as they see cracks on their walls or a door no longer adjusts shut.
The people of Santo Niño are afraid, but they have learned to live with it and refuse to give up what has cost them so much. That is why they stay until the last moment in the houses that are collapsing, like dominoes: one after the other, one pushing the other down.
A neighborhood of buildings
In Santo Niño, there is a particularity: it is a neighborhood where the constructions with thin columns and little stability are lifting to three, five, six, and nine floors. Some group large families and others serve for rent, so in the community also the housing problem is an urgent situation.
Jesus Moreno, an official of the Civil Protection Group, told El Pitazo that the land is undermined by white water and sewage that has been flowing under the houses and streets for years. The weakening of the ground increasing the danger already generated by a dammed creek on which houses were built.
Moreno explains that they put markers in some cracks a year ago, and they have been able to verify that the movement of the earth in Santo Niño and all the streets of El Encantado is continuous. He explained that the houses at risk were marking and that the neighbors know what could happen if they stay there.
Those affected have been asking looking for asylum in the homes of relatives or neighbors. But in the meantime, many homeowners refusing to leave because they have nowhere else to go, and they do not want to lose their homes.
Gineth Díaz is one of these cases. She is an owner of a three-story house in which she lives with seven people, including children. Despite the inclination and the collapse of the buildings around, she does not want to leave her home.
“I am a hairdresser. I have no one else in Caracas. I do not have dollars to pay a rent of $180. I have everything picked up so as not to lose everything and to be able to take it out if the house falls, but I am not going to leave my home to risk a woman with children and a husband who is a crook, to flatten, to get in and then, and they left me with nothing,” explains Diaz.
Her opinion is different from the one of Tania Arellano, the daughter of the owner of the building that collapsed on September 8. She chose to leave with her family for shelter. “We don’t want to, but we have to do it. They had already come once and taken a census of us, we didn’t want to leave, but now it is different.”
While Arellano watches from the balcony of a house as some acquaintances beat the rubble, trying to find hidden belongings, the neighbors that are not yet marked, but that are locating in the neighborhood, think about leaving. But they hesitate for the same reason as Mrs. Diaz: they do not want to see how the invaders make their homes on the un-safe ground of Santo Niño and on the ruins of what once were their houses.