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.

News
people

Arts and Entertainment
JJ Abrams' seventh Star Wars, The Force Awakens
filmsThe first glimpse of Episode VII has gone online after weeks of anticipation
News
Michael Buerk in the I'm A Celebrity jungle 2014
people
Arts and Entertainment
Wolf (Nathan McMullen), Ian (Dan Starky), The Doctor (Peter Capaldi), Clara (Jenna Coleman), Santa Claus (Nick Frost) in the Doctor Who Christmas Special (BBC/Photographer: David Venni)
art

Presents unwrapped, turkey gobbled... it's time to relax

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

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive

£18000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Executive is required t...

Recruitment Genius: National Commercial Manager - Buyer

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This waste services provider is...

Recruitment Genius: IT Cloud Support Engineer

£25000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you a team player who likes...

Recruitment Genius: Skilled Machinist

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: They are in need of additional skilled machini...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: ‘We give them hope. They come to us when no one else can help’

Christmas Appeal

Meet the charity giving homeless veterans hope – and who they turn to when no one else can help
Should doctors and patients learn to plan humane, happier endings rather than trying to prolong life?

Is it always right to try to prolong life?

Most of us would prefer to die in our own beds, with our families beside us. But, as a GP, Margaret McCartney sees too many end their days in a medicalised battle
Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night - is that what it takes for women to get to the top?

What does it take for women to get to the top?

Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night and told women they had to do more if they wanted to get on
Christmas jumper craze: Inside the UK factory behind this year's multicultural must-have

Knitting pretty: British Christmas Jumpers

Simmy Richman visits Jack Masters, the company behind this year's multicultural must-have
French chefs have launched a campaign to end violence in kitchens - should British restaurants follow suit?

French chefs campaign against bullying

A group of top chefs signed a manifesto against violence in kitchens following the sacking of a chef at a Paris restaurant for scalding his kitchen assistant with a white-hot spoon
Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour War and Peace on New Year's Day as Controller warns of cuts

Just what you need on a New Year hangover...

Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
Cuba set to stage its first US musical in 50 years

Cuba to stage first US musical in 50 years

Claire Allfree finds out if the new production of Rent will hit the right note in Havana
Christmas 2014: 10 best educational toys

Learn and play: 10 best educational toys

Of course you want them to have fun, but even better if they can learn at the same time
Paul Scholes column: I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season

Paul Scholes column

I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
Lewis Moody column: Stuart Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

Lewis Moody: Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

So what must the red-rose do differently? They have to take the points on offer 
Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

Sarkozy returns

The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game