WINNIPEG — A mudslide in Panama that swept away homes and businesses sounded a lot like the thunder from heavy storms that had been pounding the area, says the neighbour who pulled a Canadian man and his wife from the rubble.
But Rey Sanchez says he knew something more serious had happened when someone came running up the street in the coastal town of Portobelo, screaming that the nearby mountain had fallen down onto his house.
Sanchez grabbed a shovel and jumped into his vehicle, and when he reached the slide, he says the landscape had changed so much that it took him a moment to figure out where he was.
He quickly spotted his best friend, Greg Coy, along with Coy’s wife Susanna Mureil, who later died.
“There was just devastation. There were power lines and telephone poles. I don’t know how to describe it. It was horrible,” says Sanchez, speaking from Panama.
“I was the one that pulled Greg from the rubble, and his wife.”
Coy is in hospital with a fractured Pelvis, Sanchez says. Mureil’s son, daughter-in-law and granddaughter also died.
Two of Coy’s children who live in Winnipeg, Kristin Coy and Josh Coy, are attempting to get emergency passports and secure enough money to get flights to Panama to be at their father’s bedside.
Panama has gone through several days of heavy rains and flooding, which have killed at least 10 people and closed of the Panama Canal for the first time in 21 years.
As well, the country has evacuated more than 1,000 people and issued evacuation orders for another 1,500 people in dozens of flooded areas.
The slide in Portobelo happened late Wednesday night.
Coy had only been married to Mureil, who was from Panama, for about two years. The couple operated a restaurant, which was near their home and was also swept away in the slide.
Sanchez said that after pulling his injured friends from the debris, he tried to drive them to hospital. But he says another slide had blocked the only road.
Eventually, emergency workers reached the site by travelling along the shoreline. They later managed to get everyone to hospital, but the delays were too long for Mureil.
“We were all basically together in my vehicle waiting for a helicopter that never showed up,” Sanchez says.
“It’s still very difficult to think about it.”
Sanchez, who operates a scuba diving school in the town, said Coy is in both physical and emotional pain.
He says he gave Coy a cellphone so he would at least be able to speak with his children in Canada.
“We’re trying to cheer him up and get the rest of his family in Canada here,” Sanchez says, noting the process has been difficult.
He says he’s hoping the Canadian government can provide assistance.