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.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
peopleMathematician John Nash inspired the film Beautiful Mind
News
Richard Blair is concerned the trenches are falling into disrepair
newsGeorge Orwell's son wants to save war site that inspired book
Life and Style
Audrey Hepburn with Hubert De Givenchy, whose well-cut black tuxedo is a 'timeless look'
fashionIt may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
Arts and Entertainment
The pair in their heyday in 1967
music
Life and Style
fashionFrom bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

Abuse - and the hell that follows

James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

It's oh so quiet!

The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

'Timeless fashion'

It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

Evolution of swimwear

From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine