Salvadoran efforts focus on survivors


SANTA TECLA, El Salvador, AFP

With little hope left of finding survivors, rescue workers Wednesday focused on helping thousands of people made homeless by El Salvador’s earthquake, as the appalling magnitude of the catastrophe became clear.

Red Cross workers made their way slowly through rural areas Tuesday, discovering more villages destroyed by Saturday’s devastating earthquake, suggesting the death toll will continue to rise.

So far, the quake has claimed 675 lives, but rescuers said at least 2,000 people were believed missing and feared dead. It would be a miracle to find survivors amid the destruction, they added.

Visiting Nicaraguan President Miguel Aleman, after touring the worst-hit areas told reporters here Tuesday: “The magnitude of the disaster is difficult to comprehend.”

He said he would put helicopters at the disposal of El Salvador’s relief efforts even though his own country’s resources were limited.

Just outside the capital, workers dynamited massive hillside boulders to prevent them from crashing on the roads, several of which, including one major highway, reopened late Tuesday.

Alongside the highway, families kept watch of their meager belongings, burning garbage to give them light after sundown as power remained cut off in those areas.

In Las Colinas, a once quiet suburb of Santa Tecla just outside San Salvador, rescuers retrieved hundreds of bodies from the devastation wrought by a quake-triggered landslide.

A 30-strong rescue team from Taiwan had the area sealed off and used sophisticated equipment to detect the slightest sound that would indicate a survivor.

But after three hours, the team left the scene unsuccessfully, and heavy machinery returned to remove tons of earth and debris, and retrieve more bodies.

In Geneva, the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) said more than 80 percent of the homes in the villages of Chuiltiupan south of San Salvador, had been destroyed.

“It signifies that many are without shelter and more have disappeared than we currently know about,” said IFRC spokesman Christopher Black.

In Tepecoyo, south of the capital, villagers clamored for food and medicine. Almost every house, most made of adobe and straw, was destroyed in the village, and the only access was by helicopter.

On Tuesday, teams from the US Agency for International Development (USAID) made an aerial survey of the affected areas

“People waved empty jugs, indicating they need water,” said Joseph Schultz, of USAID.

As international aid kept pouring in, a 71-strong Franco-German team arrived in a DC-10 carrying aid that included field hospitals and water treatment plants.

A Colombian cargo plane arrived in San Salvador Tuesday loaded with food, medicine, and two field hospitals. Salvadoran President Francisco Flores’ request of 3,000 coffins would be arriving shortly, said a Colombian official in the capital.

An 18-member rescue team from Japan, including three physicians and six nurses, also arrived Tuesday.