The Heat Is Online

Downpours, Landslides Leave More than 120 Fatalities in El Salvador

10,000 Salvador flood victims need food


Some 13,000 left homeless; death toll rises to at least 160


The Associated Press, Nov . 10, 2009

VERAPAZ, El Salvador - At least 10,000 Salvadorans are in urgent need of food aid after floods and mudslides destroyed huge swaths of crops during harvest season, the U.N. World Food Program said Tuesday.

President Mauricio Funes told reporters the death toll had risen to at least 160, but lowered the number of homeless to 12,930. Dozens of people remained missing.

Heavy rains caused a dozen rivers to jump their banks and sent torrents of mud and boulders tumbling down mountainsides across the Central American country over the weekend, burying entire neighborhoods.

Rescue workers used heavy machinery to dig through the rubble Tuesday, while survivors tried to unearth their belongings with any equipment they could get their hands on.

The WFP is helping feed 500 people in shelters in San Vicente, one of the worst-hit provinces, the U.N. agency said in a statement. But it said thousands more would need help in the coming days.

"Severe flooding washed away entire harvests, homes and livelihoods," said Dorte Ellehammer, WFP representative in El Salvador. "This disaster has compromised the food security of thousands of people."

The WFP said 90 tons of high-energy biscuits will be ready for distribution in two days, a supply that can feed 70,000 people for four days. Another 1,000 tons of food is also available in the country.

In Verapaz, a farming town on the slopes of the Chichontepec volcano, many residents lost their sugar and coffee crops. Cornelio Lobato said his family returned to their ruined home to find that only their rooster, Pipo, had survived by flying up a mango tree.

"We have nothing, no money, nothing. But we're not going to eat Pipo. He is the only thing we have left, and we are going to take care of him until he dies," he said.

The Salvadoran government is still evaluating the extent of damage to beans, corn and other crops. The WFP said it was difficult to assess the situation because road and bridge collapses left many communities reachable only by helicopter.

But just in the town of San Agustin, north of the capital, the mayor estimated that 90 percent of crops were lost, said Gersande Chavez, director of Save The Children in El Salvador, who distributed food and water to disaster areas Tuesday.

About 250 families were in shelters in San Agustin, Chavez said. They had received food but were in need of mosquito nets, toothpaste, soap and other supplies.

Chavez said many people who lost homes and crops may have so far gone unnoticed because they are staying with neighbors instead of in shelters.

On her way to San Agustin, Chavez said, people standing by the roadside frantically pointed down a ravine where the homes and crops of six families had been erased by mud. Everyone survived, but no help had arrived.

"They just wanted to be part of the census," she said, adding that she told the mayor about the families.

"People were about to harvest their corn," Chavez said. "All that is washed away for some families, and that is a huge concern. They will have to wait six months to have crops again."

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. 


Rescuers dig for survivors in El Salvador

Hurricane-sparked flooding and landslides have killed at least 124 people

The Associated Press, Nov . 9, 2009

VERAPAZ, El Salvador - Soldiers and residents dug through rock and debris looking for dozens of people missing when a mudslide covered a town in El Salvador, part of a wave of flooding and landslides that has killed at least 124 people in this Central American country.

Days of heavy rains, indirectly linked to Hurricane Ida's passage through the region, caused mud and boulders to sweep down the side of the Chichontepec volcano before dawn Sunday, burying homes and cars in the town of Verapaz, about 30 miles outside the capital, San Salvador.

Homes, streets and cars were swallowed by the mud in the town of about 3,000 inhabitants.

"It was terrible. The rocks came down on top of the houses and split them in two, and split the pavement," said Manuel Melendez, 61, who whose home was destroyed. "I heard people screaming all around."

'Devastated country'

Amid a persistent drizzle, rescuers dug frantically for survivors late Sunday with shovels and even their bare hands. But the search was made difficult by collapsed walls, boulders and downed power lines that blocked heavy machinery.

President Mauricio Funes declared a national emergency and called the damages incalculable.

"The images that we have seen today are of a devastated country," Funes said on local television.

El Salvador's Civil Protection agency raised the death toll by to 124 late Sunday, with another 60 people missing. It didn't break down the deaths by location, but the deaths were concentrated in San Salvador and San Vicente province, where Verapaz is located. Red Cross spokesman Carlos Lopez Mendoza said earlier that 60 people were missing in Verapaz.

Matias Mendoza, 26, was at home in Verapaz with his wife Claudia and their year-old son, Franklin, when the earth began moving.

"It was about two in the morning when the rain started coming down harder, and the earth started shaking," Mendoza recalled. "I warned my wife and grabbed my son, and all of a sudden we heard a sound. The next thing I knew I was lying among parts of the walls of my house."

"A few minutes later, I found my wife and my son in the middle of the rubble, and, thank God, we're alive," said Mendoza, who suffered cuts on his cheek that emergency workers stitched up.

3 days of downpours

Almost 7,000 people saw their homes damaged by landslides or cut off by floodwaters following three days of downpours from a low-pressure system indirectly related to Hurricane Ida, which brushed Mexico's Cancun resort on Sunday before steaming into the Gulf of Mexico.

San Vicente Gov. Manuel Castellanos said workers were struggling to clear roadways and power and water service had been knocked out. At least 300 houses were flooded when a river in Verapaz overflowed its banks, Lopez Mendoza said.

Ida's presence in the western Caribbean may have played a role in drawing a Pacific low-pressure system toward El Salvador, causing the rains, said Dave Roberts, a Navy hurricane specialist at the U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami.

He added, however, that "if there were deaths associated with this rainfall amount in El Salvador, I would not link it to Ida."

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.