One Million Salvadoreans Touched by Quake

SAN SALVADOR, El Salvador, January 25, 2001 (ENS) - More than one million people have been directly affected by the earthquake that rocked El Salvador on January 13, according to the latest assessment by the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent.

The official death toll now stands at 726. The quake measuring 7.6 on the Richter scale has touched the lives of one in every six Salvadoreans.

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Homes destroyed in Cojutepeque (Photo courtesy Office of the President)
"This disaster has had a profound impact on the country," says Iain Logan, leader of the Federation's assessment team. "More then one million people have been directly affected, with some 500,000 people now homeless."

The International Federation launched an appeal for 5.4 million Swiss francs (US$3.27 million) on Wednesday for assistance to the more than 150,000 people who have been displaced by the earthquake.

Santiago Gil, head of the Americas Department of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent (IFRC) said that "within minutes of the earthquake, Red Cross rescue teams were mobilized to affected areas." Since then, more than 2,200 Red Cross volunteers have been active around the country in search and rescue, first aid, emergency food distribution and damage assessment.

More than 2,000 aftershocks have been felt since the earthquake, and many people fear to move back into their homes.

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President Francisco Flores consoles some survivors. (Photo courtesy Office of the President)
On Monday, President President Francisco Flores delegated responsibility for aid distribution to 262 affected municipalities and announced a 1,500 colones (US$170) grant to affected families to clear away the ruins of their houses.

There are 130 shelters scattered across the country established in schools, churches and public buildings, which are now housing an estimated 50,000 people. The largest shelter is the El Cafetelon shelter which is a temporary home to more then 5,000 people from the community of Las Colinas in Santa Tecla.

In Las Colinas, a landslide set off by the earthquake killed 315 people.

While much of the immediate attention focused on the massive landslide that killed hundreds of people in the middle-class San Salvador suburb of Santa Tecla, the international aid organization CARE has been reaching out to communities in outlying areas of the mountainous nation.

"Many of the roads were blocked by landslides," says Sonia Silva, CARE program director in El Salvador. "As they are cleared, we have been rushing in to provide food, water and medical supplies. And so far, CARE has reached nearly 67,000 people. Our staff are saying that these towns look as if they were bombed."

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Volunteers search for victims in Las Colinas (Photo courtesy Office of the President)
Oxfam's emergency program is providing clean water to rural communities in the worst affected provinces of Sonsonate, La Paz, La Libertad, Ahuachapan and Usulutan. Oxfam International is working with the Red Cross and also supporting the work of 13 other major partners in the distribution of food and other basic needs in the same provinces.

The European Uunion gave Oxfam 500,000 euros (US$462,400) immediately after the quake. These funds have enabled Oxfam International to bring in and set up 27 water tanks providing 40,000 people with clean water every day and providing 5,000 buckets, eight trucks, a latrine program and hygiene kits for 2,000 families.

Colombian psychiatrist German Casas Nieto specializes in treating victims of natural disasters. He heads a six person team from Médecins Sans Frontières, Doctors Without Borders, that is working in El Salvador to assist the earthquake victims.

After his experiences assisting the victims of earthquakes in Armenia, Colombia, and Ecuador and helping victims of Hurricane Mitch in Guatemala, Dr. Casas says that, "after the first disaster, the so-called natural disaster, a second disaster to take its toll on the victims is the psychological one."

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IFRC delegate Xavier Castellanos comforts a small boy in the community of Comasagua. The village was cut off for days as landslides made access impossible. (Photo courtesy IFRC)
Initially people are shocked, says Dr. Casas. "They do not believe what has happened. They experience fear. Some have sleeping problems. Even nightmares occur. Others are constantly preoccupied with what has happened. They may have flash-backs and sometimes do not realize the event is over. To balance their continuous preoccupation, some people try to avoid everything that is related to the event. They do not want to speak about it, they avoid smells and sounds; sometimes they even avoid people who make them think of the event."

The team from Doctors Without Borders coordinates their activities with the authorities, community leaders and local nongovernmental organizations. "We encourage them to create their own community services and mental health referral network," says Dr. Casas. "In El Salvador there are a number of good psychologists. They can take over."