Fear has made its home in Punto Fijo
Most of the explosion victims are staying in hotels
The explosion occurred in early morning at the Refinery Center of Paraguaná on August 25, is not a surprise anymore. There is no need to say that 42 people died and more than 500 houses and stores were destroyed in areas like Creolandia, San Rafael and La Pastora, as it is already known. The soul of city seems to be absent to some extent: the devastated area has been taken by military officers; everyone is speaking of a relative, friend or acquaintance who lost his/her home, and a thousand of words on this. But in brief: many are afraid to experience the same event where their houses became greatly affected in the early morning.
It has been a week and a day after the explosion and the city is still controlled by chaos. It is true that last Friday, August 31, people went out to Sambil and some other malls. There are also some who in spite of the devastation- load their pick-ups with housewares in the vicinity of the free-tax stores located in Paraguaná. Nevertheless, it is not business as usual and last week, sales decreased between 40% and 50%. José Mavarez expresses from a clothes store inside Sambil Mall: "There if fear here," he says. "If by any chance, a new fire takes place, people get out of here without returning."
Early in the morning of August 25, some of the victims would rent rooms in private hotels whereas others even abandoned the city. Mauriannys Noguera was one of those who departed and got into Tacuatro highway and other neighboring localities located between Coro and Punto Fijo. "It was a horrible tremor," she remembers. "The house gate got out of frame as in an earthquake, but we were able to open it and managed to get to Santa Ana, located on the way to Coro."
Very few can relate the dramatic experience without feeling emotional distress: Daniel Lugo, from San Rafael sector, was awakened by the impact of the window's glass and frame which felt onto him; Rodulfo Gelvez shivered while his house -located in La Pastora sector- shook causing the house's walls to crack; whereas on the other side of the oil refinery, Marisela Fernández woke up when the explosion torn apart the asbestos roofing sheets of her house.
At least, they could tell the story; whereas, those at the National Guard detachment could not even speak of it. Inside the military post, everything is a complete new world: vehicles were scorched, the window's frames are twisted or melted and trees -which once stood firmly- count now on no leaves just as if this was the first Autumn of Paraguaná.
The military detachment was the most affected spot, 18 out of the 42 dead people recorded by the authorities were found inside the military structure. The military post is just one street far from the nine fuel tanks that burned during the explosion. That explains why many died in there.
Although the disaster took place mainly in the surroundings of the oil refinery, San Rafael and La Pastora look like ghostly towns. Those neighborhoods grew up concomitantly with the oil refinery and the country; that is why, the official numbers issued warn about so many houses devastated by the explosion.
The majority of the explosion victims believe that oil holding industry Pdvsa will expropriate the whole perimeter; however, at the main facility -owned by the industry- and located in Judibana sector, no one discloses to the press neither the aforementioned rumor nor further information in Punto Fijo.
A foggy road
Even some workers devotedly loyal to the officialism warn that inside the oil refinery in Amuay, there were machines which were not properly functioning. If that was not true, Yenifer Cordero could not comprehend how at 1:07 in early morning, just four minutes before the explosion, she perceived a fog that covered Alí Primera Avenue: Punto Fijo's main avenue.
Her husband was driving the car, when at some point they noticed that the road was partially clouded. Thank God, he speeded up the car, she says. "That fog was a thick gas spilled on the ground which stretched for less than half the road and smelled of rotten egg."
They had been feeling something weird for several hours. It is true that local residents from Punto Fijo are already used to the "smell of oil refinery" but among hundreds of sharp-nose people, many agree that this time such smell was not familiar. "It seemed domestic gas," Mariluz de Lugo relates. In order not to be listed as homeless, she is staying in her mother's house together with other five families.
"I would continuously open and close the gas canisters to check if it was happening in my house," she says. That was before the explosion went off. Everyone knows the rest of the story: firstly, a thunder pierced the sky and right after the sound was heard. From that very moment, everything was in chaos; those in charge of Rafael Calles Sierra Hospital warn about a list composed of more than 8,700 people who according to a census conducted by oil holding industry Pdvsa have lost at least a window in their houses. The oil holding industry has promised to compensate them; nevertheless, Acacio Pestana just wants what he had before the event: some peace and quiet.
"On an emotional level, many people are traumatized," de Lugo expresses. "We are now scared by an alarm going off or the sound of a leaking gas canister." We even fear the thought of looting. Looting has happened before of course, an example would be the Caracazo; however, as it tends to happen in these situations, some petty thief took advantage of the disaster in order to steal TV sets from houses and spirits from liqueur stores.
Those events thankfully happened fast. Although the city is filled with detours and streets are closed with fuel barrels, the worst already happened. At the moment, sea spray -which helped to extinguish the fire-, hovers around the affected areas as soap bubbles; whereas the explosion victims start making their appearance in the city.
Translated by Adrián Valera Villani
José Vicente Rangel clearly said: "We are not conducting negotiations threatened with a gun in the head." He warned behind closed doors in the midst of the social upheaval occurred during the oil strike in 2002 and 2003. Dissenting Timoteo Zambrano answered back that no other option was available: "The thing is that otherwise, you do not negotiate."