Sunday, October 16, 2011

El Salvador in State of Emergency

Enjoying a relatively quiet and typical winter, Salvadorans were already dreaming of the cool, breezy months of November and December, and then the summer days beyond. Across the country, the May or “summer” harvest was solid. Though many had to scramble and purchase expensive bean seed to plant the year’s second crop season, due to losses sustained during last year’s late winter storms, hopes were high and the climate seemed promising. I had even begun to hear folks saying, “yep, winter has come to an end”.

Anyone who was thinking along those lines has certainly since changed their mind. Constant, heavy rains related to Pacific Hurricane Jova have drenched El Salvador for more than a week now, beginning last weekend and predicted to continue through Wednesday. President Mauricio Funes addressed the nation Friday, declaring a national state of emergency. As of this morning, fourteen people have lost their lives, hundreds have lost their homes, and thousands have lost livestock and crops that are their livelihood. More than 13,000 men, women and children have been evacuated from their homes and are receiving attention in one of close to 200 schools, churches and other temporary centers meagerly equipped and staffed to provide food, bedding, clothes and medical attention to evacuees.
I have spent the last three days trying to reach friends and colleagues in the communities by phone. When the grid is not flooded and the calls go through, for the most part I have been relieved by what I have heard. In many places people are still at home, with their families, safe and relatively dry. In other places families have been moved into shelters, and while it is not the most comfortable of accommodations, they too are content to be safe and dry. As of yesterday in most of the Joining Hands communities 4x4 vehicles were still able to get in and out, and there had not been severe landslides or flooding reported. However, last night the situation went from bad to worse. The bridge on the main highway connecting the central and western regions of El Salvador has collapsed, and the secondary route is being closed intermittently in order to clear away reoccurring mudslides, making mobilization of people and aid to and from the most devastated areas nearly impossible.

Eleven of El Salvador’s fourteen Departments, or Provinces, are on “Red Alert”. All community activities, including classes, sporting events, even worship services have been suspended and people are being advised to stay inside if possible. While I am safe and dry, aside from a few leaks in the ceiling, here in San Salvador and as in other urban centers, many homes and livelihoods are at risk.

The rain has lessened for the moment, from torrential downpours to light but steady showers as we transition from one storm to another. From San Salvador, I am trying to maintain communication with all our partner churches and organizations and their communities to keep our information as up-to-date as possible. Since in many places the conditions of even the main roads is not clear, at this point it is not wise to venture out to these communities to see for ourselves. This, for me, is one of the most difficult things to accept in these situations and at times the helplessness seems almost unbearable.
Our hope is to be able to reach out to some of these communities with emergency food and water rations tomorrow. There is a well coordinated effort on behalf of the government, the Red Cross and other relief organizations to meet the most urgent needs of the people, but they too are working with limited resources and as tends to happen under these circumstances, many donated items sit in storage or get siphoned off and those needs are not met.

Please join me in prayer for the people of El Salvador and throughout Central America as we continue to weather this storm. The recovery and rebuilding phase will be even more challenging and costly, but we have faith that “Dios es grande”, God is great, and is with us every step of the way, just as we accompany others.

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