By Zach W. Watson
The next day we awoke to sunshine. The ominous volcano smoked behind the city.
La Jefa told us about the house of the German, a beautiful old house, the kind you take your shoes off before entering. It was completely split in two and remained in the rubble somewhere along the river that now split the city into two.
CNN described Chaiten around the time of the eruption as a giant ashtray. This was an accurate description. Three years later, ash still piled up on the banks of the road. A playground lay buried under the ash, the slide never reaching the ground.
We climbed into the second story of a house with no roof that now sat at ground level due to the height of the reservoir of ash. Alex sat on the bed, still made with sheets, and Mike took a picture. The frame of the house still remained erect, along with a triangular wall with a single window.
The next house, I sat on my knees and peered through the top half of an opened window. The living room was filled with ash that raised the old furniture nearly to the roof, with arm rests and end tables barely peaking out.
These were people’s homes, people’s couches, people’s knives and forks, people’s broken windows, left to disintegrate, abandoned but not forgotten. The city waited, as a constant reminder, for the next eruption. As much as the people wanted to rebuild their city, on their own without help from their government, it could be destroyed again.
The government has good reason to resist the funding of reconstruction. The volcano still smokes, and just recently, last February, seismic activity in the area warned of another eruption.
As long as the people remained and had such a strong resolve, they will live there solely, and against better judgment, because it was their home. The government has a responsibility to its people. Maybe the government shouldn’t rebuild the houses and the stores, if the people want to live there, knowing that their lives might be destroyed again, they can rebuild the city. But it’s a governmental duty to provide water and electricity to its people, which Chaiten has been without for three years.
They can reinforce the dam to protect their interests, but they can’t provide basic utilities. This was one of the few places I have been in all of South America that doesn’t have utilities, and for a country as advanced as Chile with means to help, it was a shame to see these people struggling as they did.
We found the German house along the orange, iron-rich river. The second floor stood, mostly intact, supported by a wall, above nothing but a colorful mosaic sitting above a rusting kitchen sink. The house leaned on the single wall, making it weak and ready to collapse at any moment.
I saw in the distance an orange roof surrounded by razor wire. It was the detention center. We snuck in through an open window, climbing onto an unsteady desk. An abandoned cup of mate sat on top of the file cabinet that held all the information on the inmates, and above it, plastered to the wall, the likeness of Michelle Bachelor Jeria, President of Chile, presiding over the scattered papers, the lifeless computer on the rotting wood desk, the myriad of personal property left all over the jail and the rest of unlit Chaiten.
The rest of the jail was in the same state. We moved onto the school.
We entered the gymnasium. Tiles scattered on top of the dirt floor. Dark and rusting, the aluminum roof creaked in the wind. In the corner on a wall, dark red enamel letters read: “Chaiten no Morira.”
The survival of the municipality has nothing to do with the people’s resolve or governmental aid, but whether that bitch they called Volcano Chaiten will spew ash, rocks and molten lava again.