El Salvador flood disaster worsened by deforestation

A A A

In the small town of Colon, El Salvador, soldiers, rescue workers and volunteers pulled bodies from the wreckage of homes yesterday, after flooding and a mudslide killed dozens of people in Central America.

The immediate cause of the flooding was the torrential rainfall that has lashed the region for the past few days. But the disaster that has killed at least 39 was, to all intents and purposes, man-made.

Much of El Salvador's tree cover has been removed, leaving the country vulnerable to flash flooding. Only an estimated 2 per cent of the tree cover that existed before the 10-year civil war remains.

At least 31 deaths were reported in the country as downpours triggered mudslides and caused rivers to burst their banks in neighbourhoods south and west of the capital, San Salvador.

"Here, there are at least seven people dead. And there, about 50 metres away, another family is buried," said Jose Dolores Portillo, who escaped the mudslide in Colon. Behind him, rescue teams continued their search for bodies.

Civil war and ecological destruction have been followed by natural disasters: Hurricane Mitch, El Niño, the 1986 earthquake, the 14 January and 14 February 2001 earthquakes.

As the swollen rivers carried all in front of them, one woman was coming to terms with the loss of her family members. "They are trapped in the mud that drowned them," sobbed Ana Ramos, whose niece died with her husband and three children in San Marcos.

El Salvador's government declared a state of emergency and began evacuation plans for those most in danger. "We are going to the lower Lempa to evacuate about 3,000 families," said Eduardo Rivera, the spokesman for one of El Salvador's leading emergency rescue units.

The normally calm Lempa, El Salvador's largest river, failed to cope with the deluge brought about by the recent storms.

The rains have been blamed on Tropical Storm Stan, upgraded to Hurricane Stan yesterday morning, now making its way across the Gulf Coast.

The National Hurricane Centre has issued warnings for much of the Gulf's coastal region. Most at risk is the important Mexican port of Veracruz. Oil platforms nearby have been evacuated.

While no damage has yet been reported in Mexico, other Central American states have been less fortunate. Honduras reported four fatalities, including the death of a one-year old boy, while Nicaraguan authorities announced that six bodies, possibly illegal immigrants on their way to the US, were washed on to the north-western shore after their boat capsized.

Four people were killed in Guatemala, prompting the authorities to follow El Salvador's lead and declare a state of emergency.

Central America is notoriously prone to the devastating effect of mudslides. In January 2001, an earthquake in El Salvador triggered a mudslide that killed more than 400 people.

John Sauven, campaign director for Greenpeace, said: "Unfortunately, something nearly always happens this time of year. Mudslides are becoming more and more common and deforestation certainly plays a role."

El Salvador's President, Tony Saca, acknowledged the seriousness of the situation: "Sixty-five per cent of the country is in danger of landslides," he warned.

The latest mudslides come at a bad time for El Salvador's authorities, already struggling to cope with another natural disaster over the weekend.

On Saturday, the country's largest volcano, Ilamatepec, erupted for the first time in 100 years. As many as 20,000 people were forced to flee their homes.

The area surrounding the eruption is a major coffee-growing area, and fears for the local farmers' livelihoods are deepening. The head of the Salvadoran coffee research association, Procafe, said that about 10,500 hectares of land mainly planted with coffee trees had been covered in ash from the eruption.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
video
Life and Style
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Southern charm: Nicolas Cage and Tye Sheridan in ‘Joe’
filmReview: Actor delivers astonishing performance in low budget drama
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
film
Arts and Entertainment
Up my street: The residents of the elegant Moray Place in Edinburgh's Georgian New Town
tvBBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past
Extras
indybest
News
Albus Dumbledore, the headmaster of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry has been the teaching profession's favourite teacher
education
Sport
Luis Suarez looks towards the crowd during the 2-1 victory over England
sport
Life and Style
Cheesecake frozen yoghurt by Constance and Mathilde Lorenzi
food + drinkThink outside the cool box for this summer’s frozen treats
News
John Barrowman kisses his male “bride” at a mock Gretna Green during the Commonwealth Games opening ceremony
peopleBarrowman's opening ceremony message to Commonwealth countries where he would be sent to prison for being gay
Sport
Sir Bradley Wiggins removes his silver medal after the podium ceremony for the men’s 4,000m team pursuit in Glasgow yesterday
Commonwealth games Disappointment for Sir Bradley in team pursuit final as England are forced to settle for silver
Sport
Alistair Brownlee (right) celebrates with his gold medal after winning the men’s triathlon alongside brother Jonny (left), who got silver
England's Jodie Stimpson won the women’s triathlon in the morning
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SQL Report Analyst (SSRS, CA, SQL 2012)

£30000 - £38500 Per Annum + 25 days holiday, pension, subsidised restaurant: C...

Application Support Analyst (SQL, Incident Management, SLAs)

£34000 - £37000 Per Annum + excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Lt...

Embedded Software / Firmware Engineer

£40000 - £45000 per annum + Pension, Holiday, Flexi-time: Progressive Recruitm...

Developer - WinForms, C#

£280 - £320 per day: Progressive Recruitment: C#, WinForms, Desktop Developmen...

Day In a Page

Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little
Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

Meet the US Army's shooting star

Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform