Javier and Paulina, Emma’s parents, in the mural that local artist Emilia Leo painted in a lifeguard box (Photos Christian Heit)
Jan is restless. He has a cap, flip flops, a t-shirt, a mesh. He still has the age that is measured by semesters. “He’s three and a half years old,” explains Javier, his father. He is bored, more up than on the floor, and he still has to wait for adults to speak, for balloons to be released and for everyone to disperse. It is his first time in Mar del Plata and his first days on the beach. He is also at the age where he questions everything. “What’s that? They are signs to tell people that they can’t get close, ”explains Paulina, his mother. He has two siblings: Ciro, fifteen, and Emma, who never stopped having three. She has -says his father- the face of his sister: “It’s her”, he describes.
Jano does not appear in the photos. Her family returned to the spa town after Emma, her youngest daughter, died five years ago. It was another January 8th. The second Monday of 2018. It was the girl’s first day at the beach. They arrived at one in the afternoon at one of the beaches in the Camet neighborhood, a few meters from the Mar del Plata Sewage Plant. The sun was at its highest point: its rays fell almost perpendicularly and the shadow spaces were cracks. They arrived and found a portion of sand sheltered from the sun. They were moments. Javier remembered that he had forgotten his baby’s toys in the car. He asked Ciro to accompany him. Paulina was in charge of accommodating the chairs, the umbrella, the blanket. Emma remained seated.
“I remember the heat, that there were almost no people on the beach and then the noise, the screams,” says Javier, five years later. A two-meter-wide solid sand rock had broken away from the cliff. Javier fractured the fifth metacarpal of his right arm trying to break the stone with blows. Lifeguards from nearby posts came to the aid. Mariano González Gadis ran sixty meters. He and other temporary rescuers – tourists, fishermen – dug wells with nails and shovels, and broke stones to find the minor trapped in the rubble.
The activity was dedicated to promoting the generation of awareness for the dangers on the beaches: at the end there was a release of balloons in honor of Emma
Mariano and his father Marcelo performed cardiopulmonary resuscitation on him. The ambulance arrived – they accuse – fifty minutes later. They brought her up without vital signs. She toured the city in a sanitary corridor that the police of the province deployed. He died at the Victorio Tetamanti Maternal and Child Specialized Interzonal Hospital. She was killed by a rock fall. She was three years old and was born in La Plata.
Five years passed. It’s another January 8th. Paulina, Javier and Ciro returned to the beach and to Mar del Plata. They arrived early from Mar del Tuyú, where they vacation. It is the first time that they are in the same place where the tragedy occurred. There are no tears or regrets. Nothing was choked. It is a healed wound, like Javier’s scar on his right ankle or Paulina’s tattoos on her chest and sword. The plan is different. “I was preparing for this moment. It is a mixture of mobilizing sensations. Each one mourned as best they could and then in a group, as a family. You look at the place and you start to remember that day: how we got there, how we got down to the beach, what we did”, says Javier.
He says that the healing process is long and eternal: “It is something that unfortunately we have to get used to.” The transit through pain is an encysted sadness: a part of them already. But they felt that they had to be encouraged to return to the beach and return to Mar del Plata: “Beyond our pain, the people who stayed here and who worked, from lifeguards to councilors, deserved that we come to see the work that They are doing. We considered that we had to close a cycle, it was a step that we had to take, we could not continue avoiding it”.
On Las Delicias beaches there is an abundant amount of signage to warn about the dangers of the cliffs
Xavier spoke. thanked. There were friends, people he hadn’t seen for a long time who had helped him. He said that he considered Mariano as part of his family. That January 8, 2018, he took up a cause: no more absurd losses like Emma’s. The girl’s death moved him. He painted a little angel on her lifeguard box and a legend: “Forever Emma.” He promoted a postponed claim: the deployment of preventive posters accompanied by active awareness tasks. The municipality distributed forty new signs to the 17 already incorporated in the northern and southern areas of the spa city warning of the danger of landslides. They say “Caution. Collapse risk. Do not stay or walk under the cliff.
Paulina also spoke. She also thanked. She also said, “We didn’t have that signage when we came, otherwise my daughter would be alive today.” The first ones were installed by the local administration after the tragedy. The following were distributed and placed by the lifeguards themselves. The family itself invested in aerosol sprays to write “danger” on the rock wall. Her mother, Laura, a geography teacher at the “Osvaldo Soriano” Municipal School 204 in Mar del Plata, created “Proyecto Emma”: an awareness program to address the dangers of the beach.
This initiative also took the form of an ordinance project in the Deliberative Council to carry out periodic information days in schools. “The idea is to give information and awareness talks, in colloquial language, explain everything so that the tourist and the neighbor feel safe. I think that politics has to understand the importance and the need for this initiative, ”he said four years ago and repeats it today. He acknowledges that the tragedy made it necessary to install abundant billboards and segment the beach with more lifeguards, but he demands a state presence that is more focused on raising awareness. He defines that the posters do not stop the will of the people to take shelter at the edge of a cliff, what does it is the awareness. “We need the city’s quintessential public space to be safe,” he says.
Local artist Emilia Leo spent ten days painting the structure and was thanked by Emma’s parents
He remembers, from that noon, that they were warned about a girl who had been trapped in the collapse of a ravine, that they arrived and found that everything was out of control. “I also remember that a life could be here with us if they had paid attention to what we had been warning about. If they had read a sign, they would not have approached. Filling with billboards is not the solution: even though there are billboards, we need to make people aware of the danger”.
“Fifteen minutes before what happened, a colleague had walked through that area. Now there are more lifeguard boxes and we are many more -admits Mariano-. We no longer have to walk 700 meters to do a prevention. Our job is to prevent and we do it from the heart, but we are looking towards the sea, we cannot turn around and look back. We are here to warn of the risks at sea, we are not here to go looking for a victim under the cliff”.
The drawing that he had painted was covered by the white of the municipal protocol. The news reached the ears of Pablo Arauz, great-great-grandson of Patricio Eralta Ramos, founder of Mar del Plata. He contacted Emilia Leo, a consecrated muralist from the city. “I didn’t even think about it, I knew I had to do it. I came to talk to Mariano, I asked for photos of the girl and that’s it. I started by painting Emma and I ended up painting the whole house”, says the artist. On one side, two images of the girl under the phrase “forever Emma” and on the other, two lifeguards.
“Only those who forget die,” said Paulina, the mother of Emma and Jano, her three-year-old son. She is accompanied in the photo by Mariano, the lifeguard, Javier her husband, Pablo Arauz and the artist Emilia Leo (Photos Christian Heit)
The prevailing tonality is intense: bright and bright colors embrace all the concrete. The reason is not arbitrary: “I wanted it to be seen from afar, to be very powerful and not to fade in the sun. Before it was all white and was lost in the landscape”. From there, five years later and at the same time the landslide occurred, there was a release of balloons in honor of Emma’s memory. The applause dropped and the balloons flew high.
His family stayed on the spot. Little Jano was mixed between everyone’s legs. His existence, says his father, “is a way of honoring life.” “We cannot do anything other than continue,” he teaches. The best thing we can do to not forget her and to always be remembering her is to continue living”. In that they are.
Mar del Plata: the tragedy that exposed the danger of the cliffs and changed the coastal landscape The dramatic story of the father of the girl who died in Mar del Plata: “We dug up the earth with our nails looking for my daughter”