February 18, 2001

Constant quakes keep Salvadorans jittery

                  SAN SALVADOR, El Salvador (AP) -- The ground keeps shaking, the buildings
                  constantly shudder. And Salvadorans can barely stand it.

                  Two massive earthquakes that killed more than 1,200 people have been
                  accompanied by thousands of smaller jolts over the past five weeks -- sending
                  people fleeing in panic to the streets day after day.

                  While by some account more than a million are
                  homeless, even many of the fortunate are nervous
                  wrecks. Many of those with undamaged homes
                  are sleeping on the street, too traumatized to be under a roof.

                  "The entire country right now is in a state of anxiety," said Military Hospital
                  psychologist Gladis Ortiz. "Some are in a perpetual state of panic, suffering from
                  facial paralysis, tics, skin problems, diarrhea, sleeplessness, stomach pains.
                  Children have been wetting their beds."

                  Ortiz tended to more than 80 people on Saturday after a moderate but sharp
                  earthquake terrified the capital. Her colleagues treated more than 500 people.
                  Scores of others arrived at public hospitals and clinics asking for tranquilizers.

                  "We've had to turn people away because we don't want them to start getting
                  addicted," said a government hospital pharmacist, Cecilia de Portilla, 39.

                  Health workers themselves are at the breaking point after tending to the injured,
                  witnessing the destruction and sleeping with a rocking ground night after night.

                  "We haven't had time to get out what we've been through, time to talk it over and
                  have a good cry," Portilla said.

                  Crowds of people, some weeping, ran into the streets after a 5.3-magnitude
                  quake hit with a sudden thud at about 2:25 p.m. local time Saturday, sending
                  ominous clouds of dust rising from the crater of the San Salvador Volcano
                  overlooking the city.

                  After a magnitude 7.6 quake on January 13 killed at least 844 people, some
                  started to grow accustomed to aftershocks, which were gradually decreasing.
                  But a magnitude 6.6 quake on February 13 killed more than 400 people and
                  restored the fear that gripped people at the first quiver of any quake.

                  Seismologists have recorded nearly 4,000 nearby quakes or aftershocks since the
                  January 13 quake. Several have surpassed magnitude 5.

                  The government reported one death and three injuries from Saturday's jolt, but it
                  destroyed the last shreds of calm that some possessed.

                  The capital was quiet Saturday night, its discos nearly empty. Many people set
                  up beds in the street.

                  "There is nothing wrong with my home, but my family moved everything out
                  because we can't stand the rumbling, the constant shaking," said Blanca Rosa
                  Alvarado, a 39-year-old mother of two who lives in a hillside neighborhood of
                  San Salvador.

                  At the Military Hospital in San Salvador, patients spent the night bouncing in bed
                  as the ground trembled. The hospital's overnight crew slept on mattresses in the

                  Juan Carlos Gutierrez, 19, said he hasn't slept a full night since January 13.

                  "I just can't get out of my mind the image of seeing people in my neighborhood
                  people screaming for help, their family members buried," said Gutierrez, who
                  barely escaped a falling wall in his home.

                  Even during the bloody civil war, which killed more than 75,000 before peace
                  accords were signed in 1992, such widespread panic was not seen, Ortiz said.

                  "At least in the war, the feeling was if you didn't go where the fighting was you
                  were safe, but with this there is no escape," Ortiz said. "Many believe the end of
                  the world is coming."

                  The stress is unlikely to go away anytime soon: The National Emergency
                  Committee said more aftershocks are ahead.

                  "The possibility exists that the release of energy will continue. As such, the
                  population should remain calm," the committee said in a news release Sunday.

                  That's easier said than done, according to psychologist Ortiz.

                  "We are fighting to act normal in an abnormal situation -- which has not been
                  easy even for psychologists."

                  Copyright 2001 The Associated Press.