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Mudslides new threat in El Salvador

BY SUSAN KIM | Baltimore, MD | January 22, 2001

The growing threat of mudslides loomed for families in El Salvador on Sunday as rain pelted the same areas hardest hit by last weekend's earthquake.

Conditions have become ever more precarious for those in already unstable living environments, and efforts of relief workers are complicated by the weather. In addition, the conditions are exacerbating the mental trauma that many earthquake survivors have experienced.

Hoping to lessen the risk of disease epidemics, officials continued to bury many survivors in mass graves this week, leaving families little chance to say goodbye to their loved ones.

The new landslide menace hovers even as tallies of death and damage from the earthquake grow. Lutheran World Relief (LWR) reported that at least 700 people are known dead and that 4,200 may be missing. There were 10,000 homes destroyed and some 20,000 people have been evacuated from high-risk zones.

Medicines, water, and basic personal supplies continue to be among the most needed items. Relief groups are urging people who want to help to contribute cash rather than material goods since most relief items can be purchased in Central America. Local congregations of many U.S.-based denominations have been responding to financial appeals.

Church World Service has also offered a meaningful way for individuals or congregations to respond. For $140, a donor can purchase an El Salvador Emergency Assistance Family Support Package that includes basic food items, kitchen utensils, bedding, and tools.

Action by Churches Together (ACT) partners have been responding with increased intensity. Many faith-based response groups have increased their monetary response and many groups also have staff at the earthquake-stricken sites providing pastoral care, distributing relief supplies, and assessing damages.

Two emergency centers are still in operation and are providing food, water, blankets, mattresses and debris removal tools to more than 3,000 people. In addition ACT emergency teams are working in 11 of 14 areas in the country that were affected by the quake.

ACT is poised to make an appeal that will likely top $3 million, its partners reported.

Coordinating their efforts, these groups are also making plans to help with long-term recovery. Some 500 families who lost their homes in the earthquake will soon be able to start rebuilding, reported LWR.

LWR is concentrating some of its efforts in rural areas, providing $30,000 in roofing material for villagers in the areas of San Miguel and La Libertad.

The families, who have stayed on their properties since the quake struck, are in communities receiving little outside help. After conducting a damage assessment, LWR found that some 739 families were homeless in at least 10 rural villages. Local leaders are in a state of near paralysis, reported LWR staff. The initial $30,000 will provide roofs for more than half the homeless families, and the rest will receive assistance as funds become available.

LWR also reported that the earthquake gravely hurt El Salvador's coffee farmers, many of whom lost their homes.

Purchasing all its supplies locally, LWR has spent $60,000 for the El Salvador emergency so far, including $10,000 used in one day for tarps, clothing, and bedding.

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