Third quake continues El Salvador's torture

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The Independent US

Like some perverse geological torture, the ground in El Salvador won't stop shuddering.

Like some perverse geological torture, the ground in El Salvador won't stop shuddering.

After another strong tremor shook San Salvador on Saturday afternoon - the third earthquake in 34 days - people ran weeping into the streets of the capital. The 5.3 magnitude quake, centred in the south of the capital, triggered some new landslides and stirred up ash within the crater of a dormant volcano that looms over the city.

Frightened city dwellers, who mistook the sudden dustclouds for smoke after hearing the ominous rumbling of an earthquake with its epicentre beneath their feet, crossed themselves and braced themselves for an eruption. One person was killed and two more pulled out from debris.

"I feel like we've been afflicted," said Esmeralda Mendoza, 26. She stood outside a chemist's shop, paralysed by fear after the sharp jolt. "This is going to finish off El Salvador."

Nerves are raw after enduring thousands of aftershocks, some with a magnitude over 5, since the first deadly earthquake in mid-January. Families are still separated, grieving is unfinished, and there has not yet been time to recover all the bodies from beneath the sliding hillsides. Cracks in damaged buildings are widening and hasty repairs are quickly undone by the continual spasms.

Since January, at least 1,240 victims have perished, and one in six Salvadorans is homeless. Families huddle under plastic sheeting, waiting for the rains to begin. Government statistics cannot keep up with the wreckage but an estimated 323,000 homes have been demolished. Water and medicines are in short supply.

Juan Alberto Vasquez, a Salvadoran Red Cross spokesman, said the situation was getting desperate: "Water is scarce as many of the wells remain buried under rubble ... and food supplies will last two more days."

Maritza Navas, 26, was stopping cars to show drivers a handwritten sign which read: "Help Us". Since she lost her home in last Tuesday's tremor, she and her three children have been sleeping rough. "We need food, water and medicine for our children," she said.

Gino Lofredo, director of Catholic Relief Services of El Salvador, said: "The most critical thing is to find a way for the central government, the municipal governments and the non-governmental and community groups to work together. Otherwise, it doesn't matter how many tons of food are sent."

Later this week, Francisco Flores, the Salvadoran President, is going to Europe to appeal for $3bn in emergency aid. The costs of rebuilding the country's basic infrastructure are soaring as the aftershocks continue. Juan Jose Daboub, the President's chief of staff, pointed out how Tuesday's big tremor knocked out much of the national water and power system. He said main highways had crumbled "like a loaf of bread".

The misery is certain to be compounded because river beds in rural areas have been blocked by landslides, which will exacerbate flooding and hamper relief efforts.

Hungry residents attacked mayors, begging for medicine and water, which they suspected was being held back.

Officials in Santa Tecla, where hundreds were buried in a mudslide set off by the 7.6 magnitude quake in January, approached foreign donors directly and got aid distributed before national leaders could get organised. "We're seeing organisations pick a town to rebuild rather than just sending aid to the country," said Cesar Martinez, spokesman for the Foreign Ministry.