Among the victims who lost their homes were pregnant women, children, the elderly, and other neighbors. The destruction damaged the electricity cables, which started a fire that spread to other houses. I stood in complete shock as I watched the flames.
BUENOS AIRES, Argentina — Eight years ago, my family and I relocated to Villa 31, a slum located near the highway in Buenos Aires. One day, I received a phone call telling me the houses on our street collapsed to the ground. I felt shocked.
It turned out, operators demolishing two adjacent homes caused an accident. They destroyed our entire street by mistake, leaving 30 families homeless.
No one warned us of any work being carried out on the highway. It caught everyone by surprise. Three rows of houses, with three floors each, turned into rubble. Forced to spend the night outside under the Illia Highway, we had nowhere else to go.
When I received that dreaded phone call, I was at work. A neighbor urgently asked if I left my son at home that day. He often stays home when I go to work but, as fate would have it, he came with me. I told my neighbor we were together and asked if everything was okay.
She then delivered the news: government contractors destroyed our houses. Supposedly, the demolition accident occurred from a miscalculation error. They only meant to demolish two houses, but an accident caused damage to the entire row. I stood in complete shock, holding the phone in my hands. A million thoughts raced through my mind. My son and I rushed to the scene.
When we arrived, we saw everything turned into rubble – our belongings scattered everywhere. I tried hard to focus on the bright side and not let the worst feelings get to me. I thought, how fortunate the collapse left no one injured. Yet, with the loss of our possessions, my mind soon filled with anger and sadness.
Among the victims who lost their homes included pregnant women, children, the elderly, and other neighbors. The destruction damaged the electricity cables, which started a fire that spread to several other houses. I stood in complete shock as I watched the flames, wondering if I would ever be able to return home again.
We wanted to recover the few belongings that remained, but the authorities refused us access to our homes. I heard news that the government stated they cut the lights earlier that day. They claimed the minimal lighting caused the workers to make a mistake. Meanwhile, we had nowhere to go.
Along with other residents, we spent the first 48 hours waiting underneath the Retiro highway bridge with no help, food, water, or electricity. Neighbors showed up with food and blankets and, two days later, the government sent some provisions. They requested we find another place to live while they sorted things out.
I held onto their promise to help us with rent and locating accommodations, but in the end, no help came. [Some residents reporting being placed in a hotel with limited affordable food availability too far from their neighborhood and jobs.] After much struggle, I identified a place with relatively acceptable living conditions for me and my son. The disruption led me to miss work. Soon, I lost my job and our money dwindled. I found a temporary job, which paid less, and began working long hours to put food on the table. I felt like I might burst at any moment, carrying such a heavy weight on my shoulders.
I never received any support from the government whatsoever. I expected them to provide some financial assistance for rent or necessities, but they never did. What felt worse, though, was never receiving an apology for their error. It felt like they did not see us as people because we lived in the slums of Buenos Aires. They simply brushed it off and ignored us.
Soon after, the place my son and I settled became unaffordable and we needed to move again but had nowhere to go. Once again, we slept under the bridge for an entire week, shivering in the cold. In total, we spent 15 days underneath that bridge, sleeping on the hard ground and, sometimes, in the rain. I watched with horror as everything I worked to build over the years fell apart in a matter of seconds. This is easily the worst thing that ever happened to me.
I see the pain in my neighbors’ eyes, too. We share this suffering, uncertainty, and anger. I have nothing left aside from a handful of things I had with me that day or was able to scavenge later. I hope, in time, we will build a home somewhere else and move past this horrible incident, which never should have happened.
They only meant to destroy two old houses, and instead the people living along the street lost everything. In moments like this, while facing a terrible darkness, it was my neighbors who pulled me through. We formed a community and did our best to be there for one another.
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