Quake Wipes a Village Off the Map
By Kevin Sullivan
Washington Post Foreign Service
SAN AGUSTIN, El Salvador, Jan. 16 -- It took generations to build this
village, a humble little patch of dirt in El Salvador's mountainous heart.
hurricanes, a bloody fratricidal war, disease and the departure of countless sons and daughters for jobs in the big city, and the United States.
But on Saturday, it took just 30 seconds of shaking fury to wipe it off the map.
Virtually every structure here -- houses, churches, stores and stables
-- crumbled into piles of porous adobe bricks, sticks and twisted sheets
of corrugated metal
Amazingly, only two people died. But three days later, many of the 6,000
survivors were camped out in soccer fields and other open spaces, still
fearful of falling
walls, and wondering if they could rebuild.
"The dream of San Agustin is over," said Mayor Jose Ignacio Carranza.
"We're depending on the goodwill of the international community or San
Agustin won't ever
be San Agustin again."
San Agustin is far from the San Salvador suburb of Santa Tecla, where
the quake caused a monstrous landslide that buried an entire neighborhood
There rescue workers today largely gave up hope of finding survivors,
the government said. In the entire country, 682 bodies have been recovered,
more people are missing. Official numbers show 2,538 people injured, 16,000 homes destroyed and 45,694 damaged.
Now the government and private relief groups are turning their attention
to places like San Agustin. Soldiers were clearing debris today; workers
for private aid
groups and people from other towns were serving hot lunches from the backs of cars.
For the weeks, months and perhaps years ahead, a mammoth task remains.
This community will need help to feed and clothe thousands of homeless
people, treat the
sick and injured, provide clean drinking water and sanitation. It will need heavy equipment to move incalculable tons of debris. Then will come reconstruction.
Every time villages like this one pick themselves up, it seems something
comes along to knock them back down. But then the cycle resumes: Most people
themselves up and try again.
Carmen Villalta's husband was killed in the 1980s during El Salvador's
bloody civil war, and now her mother's house was lost in the earthquake.
Today she said all
she could do was start again; she was heading to another city to see what she could buy for her mother.
The Rev. Samuel Orellana Ramos, 30, stood in the back of the remains
of his Church of God, where a 65-year-old worshiper was crushed as she
church is a heap of rubble, except for a wrought-iron front gate that survived intact. Iron letters over the gate read: "Christ is coming."
"Food and help have come, but not enough," Orellana said. "We don't
know if we will rebuild. All of our church members are in the same predicament,
so we don't
have the will to ask them to help."
Down the road, Maria Antonia Sanchez lay on a dirty mattress on a hot concrete basketball court, her broken collarbone aching and her heart heavy.
Sanchez lost her 33-year-old son, Manuel, when their two-room adobe
house collapsed on them. They buried Manuel Sunday, and Sanchez and 10
living under a tattered tent of heavy black plastic.
"I have no medicine for the pain," she said, shifting uncomfortably
on the mattress where she has been since Sunday afternoon, surrounded by
crying children, dazed
neighbors and soldiers hauling away debris.
The earthquake caused severe damage in localized areas. San Agustin
was leveled but just a few miles down the road other communities seem to
have been hardly
touched. Because many of the damaged towns were isolated to begin with -- then cut off from telephone service and, in some cases, access by road -- it has been
difficult to assess the damage and coordinate relief efforts.
The government continued to send soldiers, doctors, nurses, work crews and heavy equipment into the disaster zone.
Companies also responded swiftly: At least two long-distance phone companies
were offering free calls to the United States so people could contact the
thousands of Salvadorans living there to ask them to send help.
A newspaper was offering free classified ads for people looking for relatives. And radio stations broadcast nonstop quake news and personal announcements.
International aid was arriving as well. A convoy of relief trucks drove
in from Honduras; Germany and France sent brigades of workers and medical
Mexico has sent relief crews; and Colombia sent a planeload of medical and cooking supplies. Many of the victims are eating canned Norwegian herring as part of a
$200,000 effort by the U.N. World Food Program that has already fed more than 54,000 survivors.
Five U.S. military helicopters ferried food aid to isolated places that
were hit hard. Today they finished taking 30 tons of food and 400 tents
to the village of
Comasagua, northwest of San Salvador, and to the southeastern city of Usulutan.
In Washington, the Immigration and Naturalization Service suspended
deportation of more than 1,000 Salvadoran nationals in INS custody. "The
action is to assist
the Salvadoran government in recovery from the devastating earthquake," said spokesman Daniel Kane.
Staff writers Sylvia Moreno and Nora Boustany in Washington contributed to this report.