Herald Staff Writer
SAN SALVADOR -- While the rest of the world's eyes are fixed on the specter
of death and ruin in Honduras and Nicaragua, the consequences of Hurricane
Mitch in El Salvador now reach levels that alone would be considered catastrophic
under any other circumstances.
The country's official death toll has climbed to 244 from the weekend's
rains, and another 50,000 Salvadorans are refugees. Many of the dead lost their
lives when the government had to release water from dams that were threatening
to burst, with as little as two hours' warning in some cases.
Twenty percent of the nation's 100 or so major bridges are destroyed or
damaged. With 800 schools seriously damaged and another 110 full of refugees
with nowhere to go, officials canceled final exams that were scheduled for
Wednesday and Thursday and ended the school year a week early.
As scattered reports of looting reached the capital, the army loaned 1,200
to the national police to help maintain order. President Armando Calderon Sol
warned stores against raising prices on staple items, and ordered 100 inspectors
out to make his words stick. Large enclaves scattered all across El Salvador are
still without electricity, water or phone service.
Coping with the storm's devastation over the past five days has been so
one Salvadoran newspaper ran a headline Wednesday morning that asked When
was the Day of the Dead?, referring to the traditional Nov. 2 holiday when people
make long cemetery visits to honor deceased family members.
All over the country, lines of refugees formed up to get paper plates full
from government soup kitchens: rice, beans and tortillas (where the refugees were
lucky), or rice and yuca where they weren't. The mood, though, was reasonably
upbeat, considering the circumstances. In one camp, a cardboard sign was nailed
to a tree: WELCOME TO THE COMMUNITY OF REFUGEES FROM EL
President Sol shared the mood. Even as the rain continued -- albeit far
than last weekend -- he declared: ``We've passed out of the emergency phase to
the evaluation phase, and we're getting ready for the reconstruction phase.''
Copyright © 1998 The Miami Herald