BARVA, Heredia – On a normal day, Ana Cambronero waits tables and cooks food at her family’s soda in the mountainous village of Cinchona, about 25 kilometers northwest of San José.
But on Jan. 8, she decided to take the day off and visit a friend in the capital city, arriving just minutes before her son Jeffrey called to see if she made it OK.
Before she’d had a chance to call him back, an earthquake shook her friend’s house.
Like most people, she initially thought the tremor to be minor.
She had no idea the epicenter was below Cinchona, that the soda had been swallowed in a landslide, killing her husband and all three of their children.
‘I Felt Immense Peace’
A few hours after the earthquake and unable to reach her family by phone, she decided to head home in case they were worrying about her.
When she heard there was no access to Vara Blanca, near Cinchona, she decided to try anyway and boarded a bus for Sarapiquí, another nearby town.
“I was sitting on the bus … and all of a sudden I felt this immense peace, different than anything I’d ever felt before. …I knew was there was nothing left of the soda.”
Cambronero then started to weep as a friend, the bus driver, tried to comfort her, but she couldn’t be consoled.
Worried about her situation but still trying to keep Cambronero calm, her friend left his bus in Sarapiquí, and drove her as close to Cinchona as he could in his car, to the village of Cariblanco.
“That’s when I found out what I already knew in my heart: The soda had caved in.” Buried under four to five meters of earth were her husband, Francisco Zamora, and children, Francela, 19, Daniela, 16, and Jeffrey, 14.
She went to the site the next day, Jan. 9 and watched in shock as workers dug through the remains of the soda. She stayed there until the bodies were retrieved on Jan. 14.
Despite the loss, Cambronero has maintained her strength over the past two weeks. While staying at her cousin’s house, she is attempting to find jobs for the large number of unemployed victims.
She believes God spared her so she could help others rebuild and start over.
“The day I married Francisco, a new chapter of my life began …and yesterday at the funeral (Jan. 15), that chapter ended,” said Cambronero. “I now have to start a new chapter, in which I can express God’s love by helping others.”
Greeting the remaining members of her family and organizing the most recent donations at a shelter in Barva de Heredia, where most of her extended family are residing, Cambronero does not seem like one who has just lost her husband and children. But she breaks down when recounting the story.
She is staying with her cousin around the corner from a two-story house transformed into a shelter for 15 former Cinchona residents ranging in age from 2 to 90. Cots are stacked almost to the roof so everyone has something to sleep on. Most of the people filtering in and out of the house are living there temporarily, or in one of the other four shelters in the area.
Cambronero referred to Susana Meoño and her family as some of many “amazing people” reaching out to the victims. They have been visiting the shelter religiously, bringing vans full of diapers, toys, clothes and blankets. Moeño also provided crafts for the kids, considering the number of young children at the shelter. She spent four hours last Friday making crafts, giving the tired parents a chance to relax.
Moeño is also trying to rally employers across the country to get in touch with the victims of the earthquake, who have spent most of their lives working on farms or in construction.
“They now have no job and, therefore, no way to provide for their families,” said Moeño. “If we contact and reach out to any employer in the country who could provide a job for these people, then they can actually begin to re-start their lives. Right now, it’s as though they’re at a standstill, but what can they do?”
Luis Cambronero, Ana Cambronero’s brother, is one of those laborers hoping to find work to support his family. He stayed six days in Cinchona after the quake and helped unearth the bodies of his two nieces.
“It was non-stop hard work because we wanted to get to the victims as quickly as possible,” said Luís Cambronero, “but it was more difficult emotionally than physically.”
The house for 15 people was rented for them by the Development Association of Barva, and no one in the shelter is sure how long they will be allowed to remain there. Thirty-five Cinchona residents remain in the Barva area in a total of five shelters, four of which were donated by private individuals.
Kathya González, Ana Cambronero’s cousin, lives around the corner from the 15- person shelter and has been at the shelter daily.
“I’m so impressed by the amazing generosity from people,” said González. “By the very first night after the earthquake, my house was already full of donations to bring to the stranded.”
Last Sunday, Meoño returned to the shelter, this time with some mental health therapists who talked to survivors, and with Cuentacuentos, a group that put on a puppet show for the kids.
“We’ll have to start our lives all over again, right back at zero,” said Clarissa Rojas, another woman stranded at the shelter. “But at least we’re alive.”
Meoño says that despite the help pouring in at the moment, she worries people will forget the victims’ dire situation as time passes. “They need long-term help reconstructing their lives.”
To help the earthquake victims, contact Meoño at email@example.com