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El Salvador struggles for relief

BY SUSAN KIM | Baltimore, MD | February 16, 2001

People in El Salvador are struggling to cope without homes, food, or

medicine three days after the second major earthquake in a month.

Faith-based and international response agencies are rushing relief to

survivors. Aftershocks strong enough to cause further landslides and

structural damage continue, according to reports from Action by Churches

Together (ACT), a global alliance of church-based relief agencies. Damage

from the second quake, which could exceed the devastation of the first, is in

the center of the country -- exactly where the nation is most densely

populated. Most homes were constructed from adobe, or from sticks and

mud.

The city hospitals of the region were destroyed, and the injured are still being

tended to in parking lots or on the streets if they are not airlifted to San

Salvador.

Emergency relief teams were dispatched by the Salvadoran Lutheran Synod,

Emmanuel Baptist Church, Episcopal Church of El Salvador, Reformed

Church, and the Salvadoran office of the Lutheran World Federation (LWF).

All these groups are coordinating their relief work through ACT.

The church teams provided emergency attention and supplies to more than

15,000 people in the area affected by the Feb. 13 quake, according to Carlos

Rauda, LWF program director.

The ACT network takes advantage of the knowledge that church workers have about remote communities, said Bishop

Medardo Gomez of the Salvadoran Lutheran Synod. "The churches know the reality of the people, especially the poor. And the

churches are always there, part of the people in good times and in bad."

ACT also provided transportation and logistical support for a group of physicians and nurses from the University of El Salvador.

ACT El Salvador also includes two secular members: Salvadoran Ecological Unity, and Foundation for Studies on the Application

of Human Rights.

Damage stretches as far north as Cojutepeque, as far south as Zacatecoluca, as far west as Lake Ilopango, and as far east as the

volcano of Usulutan.

Among the four communities hardest hit by the latest quake were San Vicente, La Paz, La Libertad, and Cuscatlan.

Presbyterian Disaster Assistance sent $50,000 to help meet needs after the second quake, and has so far contributed $200,000

toward relief.

International Aid, a health-focused Christian relief agency based in Spring Lake, MI, sent blankets, medicines, personal hygiene

kits, and school kits to survivors in San Vicente, La Paz, La Libertad, and Cuscatlan.

"In San Vicente alone, approximately 45 percent of the homes were destroyed in the first earthquake," said Sonny Enriquez,

disaster relief coordinator for International Aid. "They had just begun to rebuild, when this happened, and now we're hearing

approximately 85 percent of the homes have been destroyed there.

"Can you imagine the trauma, the sense of insecurity that comes with going to sleep in your home and not knowing if you will

wake up the next day? We know the physical pain is there, and the hardship of rebuilding, but the fear that is over them is what

is the most difficult. The churches help to allay that fear by infusing an essence of hope into the situation."

Scientists have not yet determined whether the second quake -- which struck exactly one month after the first -- was an

aftershock or a separate seismic event.

Churches have offered a model to the government in how to respond, said Rudelmar Bueno de Faria, coordinator of ACT El

Salvador. "The government did not have networks established ahead of time, and it took them valuable time to establish

alliances with different sectors of society in order to respond in affected communities. The disaster would have been much

worse had other networks, especially those of the churches, not assumed a major role in responding quickly to the needs.

"The churches are the one organization that has historically been present in the most marginalized communities, in the zones of

death. They have a strong commitment to serving the poorest of the poor, and they have what we call 'installed capacity,'

including ready volunteers who know the local community and are willing to work long hours in serving others.

"It's not a surprise that in many communities the churches were the first to respond."

ACT reported that its assistance to those affected by the latest earthquake will continue to expand.

Tuesday's 6.6-magnitude quake killed at least 283 people and injured more than 2,500. The death toll is likely to rise, according to

reports from both the government and from relief agenices. The deadly Jan. 13 temblor killed 844, injured 4,723, and destroyed

278,000 houses.

ACT and its partner members have been responding to the needs of January's quake survivors, often focusing on rural villagers

who have received little attention from the government. Deliveries of food supplies -- corn, beans, rice, cooking oil -- are

ongoing.

Several ACT members from outside the region, including Norwegian Church Aid, Danchurchaid, and Diakonisches Werk, sent

specialized staff to assist with relief.

Church World Service (CWS), in addition to working with ACT and its partners, also provided a $30,000 airfreight shipment of

4,000 blankets to LWF. CWS also issued an appeal for $500,000 to support wider ACT efforts.

The Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) committed $400,000 and a shipment of material resources for relief and housing

reconstruction. MCC plans to rebuild 300 homes over the next two years.

ACT issued an appeal for $3.9 million to support its activities. So far $1.1 million has been raised.

Many residents are concerned that temporary shelters erected to replace their collapsed homes won't withstand seasonal rains

that will begin in April.


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