Salvadoran Army Joins Aid Operations
By Dialogo November 13, 2009A total of 1,263 members of the Salvadoran Army have undertaken a wide-ranging operation to distribute food and supplies to those affected by the rain that left 157 dead, while the Ministry of Public Works is clearing dozens of blocked roads. “The operation is already underway,” the head of the Army’s Communications Department, Col. Eduardo Figueroa, told AFP. As in the emergencies that El Salvador went through with the two earthquakes of 2001, the Army is using the International Fair and Convention Center, in the western sector of the capital, to prepare the shipments that will be sent to the regions flooded by the heavy rain that fell over the weekend. The Minister of Defense, Gen. David Munguía, affirmed that the Army will take charge of transporting the aid from the international airport to the Convention Center and will then go on to safeguard and distribute it in the affected localities. “The president (Mauricio Funes) has been very concerned that the humanitarian aid that we are going to receive be well guarded and that the ultimate recipients be those who really need it,” Munguía commented. Meanwhile, the Minister of Public Works, Gerson Martínez, affirmed that a total of ninety-three roads “suffered damage,” including primary and secondary roads, and only thirty-eight have been cleared. In various locations in the country, three hundred pieces of heavy equipment are at work, one hundred of which belong to the Ministry of Public Works and the remainder to the private firm that is collaborating on the emergency response. One of the roads that has already been reopened for vehicular passage is the one between the towns of Guadalupe and Verapaz, two of the localities most affected by the avalanche of the Chichontepec volcano, about seventy km east of San Salvador, and which are in need of the arrival of humanitarian aid. “We have 1,534 workers on the ground at this time, including engineers, technical staff, and workers in general. With regard to work to reopen the roads, 682 workers from the Road Fund are also included,” Martínez emphasized. The number of bridges “severely affected,” according to the minister, is thirty-eight. Public Works is responding to 120 landslides, which will mean the removal of 500,000 cubic meters of material and will cost around 7.5 million dollars. In total, the preliminary spending estimate is 88.5 million dollars. For his part, the president of the Salvadoran Construction Industry Chamber (CASALCO), Mario Rivera, declared that his group’s initial priority was aid to persons, followed by reopening road connections, an indispensable prerequisite “so that the aid can reach those affected.” “What I’ve seen in Verapaz goes beyond any previous situation, although there’s always been pain and human misfortune,” Rivera commented, affirming that CASALCO will continue accompanying those affected and the government throughout the emergency phase and clearing the roads. One of Minister Martínez’s concerns is that as a result of the avalanche, which carried boulders up to seven meters in size from the peak of the Chichontepec volcano, a crevasse almost seven kilometers in length opened up, posing a continuing danger in the region. Other experts have forecast this week that it will be necessary to rebuild the affected settlements in a more distant and safer location.