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.

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Barnardo's: Corporate Audit and Inspection – Retail Intern (Leeds)

Unpaid - £4 lunch allowance plus travel to and from work: Barnardo's: Purpose ...

Recruitment Genius: Content Writer - Global Financial Services

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: From modest beginnings the comp...

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer - PHP

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: From modest beginnings the comp...

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service / Receptionist

£15000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Day In a Page

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

The honours that shame Britain

Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

International Tap Festival comes to the UK

Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

BBC heads to the Californian coast

The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

Car hacking scandal

Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
10 best placemats

Take your seat: 10 best placemats

Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory
Ashes 2015: Alastair Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Aussie skipper Michael Clarke was lured into believing that what we witnessed at Edgbaston and Trent Bridge would continue in London, says Kevin Garside
Can Rafael Benitez get the best out of Gareth Bale at Real Madrid?

Can Benitez get the best out of Bale?

Back at the club he watched as a boy, the pressure is on Benitez to find a winning blend from Real's multiple talents. As La Liga begins, Pete Jenson asks if it will be enough to stop Barcelona
Athletics World Championships 2015: Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jessica Ennis-Hill and Katarina Johnson-Thompson heptathlon rivalry

Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jess and Kat rivalry

The last time the two British heptathletes competed, Ennis-Hill was on the way to Olympic gold and Johnson-Thompson was just a promising teenager. But a lot has happened in the following three years
Jeremy Corbyn: Joining a shrewd operator desperate for power as he visits the North East

Jeremy Corbyn interview: A shrewd operator desperate for power

His radical anti-austerity agenda has caught the imagination of the left and politically disaffected and set a staid Labour leadership election alight
Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief: Defender of ancient city's past was killed for protecting its future

Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief

Robert Fisk on the defender of the ancient city's past who was killed for protecting its future