The Washington Post
Monday, January 15, 2001 ; Page A16

Distant Earthquake Hits Close to Home

By Spencer S. Hsu
Washington Post Staff Writer

Washington's large Salvadoran immigrant community rushed to organize relief efforts yesterday while individuals coped with personal losses following the devastating
earthquake that struck Central America.

News of the natural disaster dominated Spanish-speaking radio in the region as broadcasters struggled to give town-by-town updates to listeners frustrated by the
virtual collapse of the Salvadoran telephone system.

Washington's Salvadoran Americans, who number about 135,000 and make up the country's largest Salvadoran community after Los Angeles, scoured information
from El Salvador's diplomatic corps, local Catholic church leaders and civic groups meeting in restaurants and living rooms.

"I've been trying to call for so many times. I got in touch once. But while I was in contact with my brother, there was another earthquake. He dropped to the floor
and the line went dead," said Sonia Aquino, 29, a public relations worker for the Spanish Catholic Center in Columbia Heights.

"I haven't been able to communicate with him. I am so worried, I don't know what happened," said Aquino, whose brother is a Red Cross worker in Santa Rosa de
Lima in La Union province.

The ambassador of El Salvador, Rene A. Leon, appealed for unity among Salvadorans living in the United States and expressed thanks for an outpouring of
assistance at an embassy news conference in Northwest Washington. He appealed to the international community for heavy rescue equipment, medical personnel and
emergency gear such as electric generators, water tanks, water treatment equipment, portable lamps, batteries and tents.

El Salvador also asked the United States to halt deportations of Salvadoran nationals while rescue efforts continue. Leon said individual relief aid should be limited to
cash sent through the Red Cross or the Catholic Church.

Across the region, volunteers looked for ways to help.

Andres Arias, owner of the Rio Bravo restaurant in Falls Church, had returned from a two-week trip to El Salvador hoping to build houses there for the homeless.
Instead, he met yesterday with 20 associates to discuss rebuilding for quake victims.

He feared one might be his sister, a pediatrician whose hospital in San Miguel, about 70 miles from the capital of San Salvador, was nearly destroyed.

"She was working at the time," said Arias. "I was not able to sleep. I've been trying to call all night long, and not even the cell phones are working."

Arias said his oldest brother is a farmer in hard-hit coastal El Salvador and that several friends lived in Santa Tecla, where the village of Las Colinas was buried by a

At the Shrine of the Sacred Heart on 16th Street in Northwest Washington, a home base for many newly arrived Salvadoran immigrants, Sunday worshipers prayed
and donated about $1,200 for survivors at the noon Mass.

"My brother was driving in the city. He felt his car shaking and then all the people were running, all the windows were breaking, glass was falling," said Maria
Rodriguez, 41, a Bethesda child care worker who learned that her family was safe yesterday.

"He got away from the buildings and back home to my mother," in the San Marcos neighborhood of San Salvador, Rodriguez said outside the church.

Efrain Castro, 34, prayed inside with his wife and two children.

"Everyone in my family is safe, but they lost everything. They're going to lose the house" to earthquake damage, said Castro, who immigrated to the United State in
1982 and whose father is a field worker from La Paz.

The Embassy of El Salvador has requested that cash relief aid be sent to the American Red Cross, at 800-HELP-NOW (800-435-7669), or, for Spanish speakers,

Several churches are accepting money and medicine, including the Shrine of the Sacred Heart, 3211 Sacred Heart Way NW, Washington, D.C. 20010; and St.
Gabriel's Church, 26 Grant Circle NW, Washington, D.C. 20011, in care of Father Vidal Rivas. Washington Archbishop Theodore E. McCarrick sent a letter to all
140 parishes of the archdiocese asking for pledges of financial help.

                                                   © 2001