The Miami Herald
 November 5, 1998
El Salvador deals with disaster in relative obscurity

             GLENN GARVIN
             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 heavy
             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 seriously
             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 troops
             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 hectic that
             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 of rations
             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

             President Sol shared the mood. Even as the rain continued -- albeit far more softly
             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