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Salvador asks for aid in wake of second deadly quake
February 16, 2001
SAN SALVADOR-- (AP) - With hospitals running out of beds, blood and medicine, officials appealed for international help for thousands of victims from Salvador's second deadly earthquake in a month.
Desperate villagers along the Pan American Highway that links the quake zone to the capital had strung paper signs across the road Thursday reading: "We need help," "We need food," and "We need water."
Resources and hope were dwindling, and landslide-covered highways blocked rescue workers from reaching stricken communities.
"Blood reserves have run out, we urgently need donors, and the hospitals have no space," Salvadoran Red Cross spokesman Carlos Lopez said.
Medical centers throughout the country - already overwhelmed by the thousands injured in last month's deadly quake - could not handle the additional victims from Tuesday's 6.6-magnitude temblor.
The National Emergency Committee put the death toll at 274, with 2,432 injured, 13,545 houses destroyed and nearly 123,000 people suffering property damage.
In San Vicente, a central city of 40,000 that was one of the hardest hit, the San Gertrudis Hospital was rendered practically useless, its walls cracked by the force of the quake and its administrative offices destroyed.
Forced to improvise, doctors created a makeshift hospital outside Wednesday, examining quake victims in the beds of pickups with IV lines strung from bamboo poles.
Men and women with bruises and broken limbs lay on bloodstained mattresses or on the ground as repeated aftershocks trembled beneath them.
In San Salvador, the maternity hospital was evacuated to make way for quake victims. New mothers and their infants were in the street.
The streets were crowded with funeral processions, the coffins sometimes decorated with bougainvillea vines plucked from the trees for want of anything more formal.
The quake hit before authorities had finished accounting for hundreds missing from a Jan. 13 quake of magnitude 7.6 that killed at least 844 Salvadorans.
"This earthquake has complicated everything," Lopez said.
Vice President Carlos Quintanilla put out an urgent plea for help.
"We can't do it with just the resources of the state and Salvadorans," he said, adding that the international aid received thus far is "insufficient ... a drop in the bucket."
Nations around the world provided help in the wake of January's quake, which caused an estimated $1 billion in damage, nearly half the annual budget.
On Wednesday, the U.S. Agency for International Development said it would provide an additional dlrs 275,000 for emergency relief supplies and dlrs 3 million for emergency housing to meet immediate needs in the wake of the latest disaster.
The U.S. Southern Command sent three helicopters and 20 personnel Wednesday from the Soto Cano Air Base in Honduras to help with medical and evacuation needs.
Mexico sent 65 soldiers and Air Force personnel to the country Wednesday, along with a team of nine doctors and other medical personnel and more than a ton of medical supplies.
Spain's Queen Sofia, on an eight-day trip through Central America to review Spain-funded programs for victims of Hurricane Mitch, arrived Wednesday to offer her country's help.
Meanwhile, medical personnel and rescue workers struggled with the resources they had.
Rescuers fought to reach dozens of communities isolated by landslides. "We assume that there are people buried or injured, people who need help," Lopez said.
He said workers were in need of excavating machines to remove tons of earth and helicopters to rescue the injured.
Rescuers also were trying to reach the slopes of the Chichontepec Volcano, where 39 people were rumored to have been buried on Tuesday. The mountain looms over San Vicente, about 30 miles (48 kilometers) east of the capital, San Salvador.
Associated Press journalists flew over the volcano Wednesday and saw landslides over all parts of it. Thousands of peasants who work at coffee harvesting live there.
"We aren't going to rest. We can't stop," Lopez said. "We have to try to save those we can, or at least retrieve the bodies so that we can present them to the families."