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
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
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
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
January 13 quake. Several have surpassed magnitude 5.
The government reported one death and three injuries from Saturday's jolt,
destroyed the last shreds of calm that some possessed.
The capital was quiet Saturday night, its discos nearly empty. Many people
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
At the Military Hospital in San Salvador, patients spent the night bouncing
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
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
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,
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
easy even for psychologists."
Copyright 2001 The Associated Press.