The embassy compound is on the rim of Lake Tiscapa, once a volcanic crater. On another portion of the lake's edge stood a military hospital. It too had been severely damaged; at this moment of dire need it was unusable.
Spreading out from Avenida Central on either side were stores, restaurants and offices, and beyond these, areas of lower-and lower middle-class homes. These were destroyed; all that remained were the stark skeletons of houses and piles of rubble. A few people still clung to what had been their homes, picking through the bricks to find a few last possessions. Then they too would find a cart or a government-provided truck and would leave Managua to join relatives or friends in the untouched rural areas.
To the west of Lake Tiscapa is the Bolonia residential area, made up of modern middle-and upper-class homes. These also showed the ravages of the earthquake. Hardly any were free of cracks or fallen roof tiles or shattered glass. Those few residents who had not yet fled had moved bedding and other possessions onto their lawns and were living out in the open, fearful that further shocks--indeed they continued intermittently--might bring their houses down.
Christmas Day would have been a climactic point of the gay holiday season for the citizens of Managua. Instead., there was only death and destruction. A report:
On Christmas Day the city is being evacuated. On street after street downtown where some people remain their few belongings have been moved out of wrecked or semi-wrecked houses to await transportation. Bodies are being burned in the streets to avert diseases. The smell of death is abroad, especially near crumbled homes. Sirens are heard constantly. There has been looting, and on one or two occasions even soldiers have been seen helping themselves to new shoes and other goods. At night the sound of shots is heard, perhaps fired at looters. One machine gun was heard firing last night. There are guards outside some homes, and they periodically blow their whistles at night, perhaps seeking reassurance from one another.
For months Nicaragua has been suffering from a drought, and now that Managua has no water and is drier than ever a cloud of dust mingles with the smoke over the city. The market place still smolders. There is little fuel available. A few gas stations are doling out a gallon or two per vehicle. Most stations have run out of fuel but cars remain lined up, apparently hoping some will arrive.
The large El Retiro Hospital outside Managua has crumpled and cannot be used. Doctors and nurses are treating patients on beds set up on the grounds under the blue skies. The dead are being brought in almost as frequently as the living.
This was Christmas Day in Managua, 1972. Christmas decorations still hung over the Avenida Central. Christmas lights still graced tall buildings. Christmas ornaments fluttered forlornly inside wrecked homes. Christmas never came.