1,000 missing in quake

Hunt ebbs for survivors of El Salvador quake that killed at least 300

Posted: Monday, January 15, 2001

Juneau man among the dead

By ERIC FRY

THE JUNEAU EMPIRE

A Juneau man died in the El Salvador earthquake according to a Juneau relative, who said he lost a total of 10 family members in a landslide.

Carrs Quality Center worker Federico Perez, 45, was among the dead, said his brother Marcus Garcia of Juneau.

Garcia said Salvadoran government officials called him early Sunday to report family members died in landslides. They were in houses near San Salvador at the time.

Garcia said his brother was visiting his family and planned to fly back Sunday. Perez had told his brother it was the last time he would visit El Salvador until he could bring enough money to buy a house for his sister.

Also dead are Garcia's mother, father, aunts, nieces and cousins, Garcia said. One 6-year-old niece lost her legs in the landslide, he said.

Garcia said Perez' girlfriend in El Salvador also called him. She said the landslide occurred within 30 seconds.

"She said he didn't have time to think. It was 30 seconds. God, 30 seconds," Garcia said.

Garcia said he plans to fly to El Salvador on Wednesday to try to arrange for "decent" funerals for his family, for which he needs to raise money. His family members are now buried in a mass grave, he said.

Garcia said Perez, an American citizen, had lived in Juneau since 1995. Leanne Ng, manager of Carrs Quality Center, said Perez began working there in April and was head of floor maintenance.

"He was a really dependable person that really took pride in his work. And he's going to be missed by everyone here," Ng said.

Perez has a son, 22, in Juneau and a son, 18, in California, Garcia said.

Eric Fry can be reached at efry@juneauempire.com.

SANTA TECLA, El Salvador -Hundreds of neighbors and rescue workers dug with crowbars, backhoes and even bare hands through a mountain of dirt today in a desperate search for survivors of an earthquake that killed at least 300 people and left more than 1,000 missing.

In this pleasant middle-class suburb of the capital tucked hard by the foot of a steep range of hills, an entire section of hillside collapsed following Saturday's 7.6-magnitude earthquake, entombing hundreds of houses in a swath of destruction 100 yards wide and 500 yards long. President Francisco Flores said he had asked Colombia for 3,000 coffins, as overwhelmed officials began to bury some victims in common graves.

In the Las Colinas neighborhood, the area hardest hit by the quake -- which damaged homes across

El Salvador and rattled much of Central America -- the destruction was nearly total. More than 36 hours after the quake, only a handful of survivors had been found, including one critically injured man who had been trapped for 30 hours until late Sunday evening under a home he had moved into only two days previously.

The man, 22-year-old musician Sergio Armando Moreno, was playing his electronic keyboard when the earth began to shake and the hillside looming over his small house exploded into an avalanche. He ran to the patio and fell to his knees as the landslide smashed and splintered everything around him and pinned him in a tiny dark space beneath a concrete slab. Through a long Saturday night, he described what had happened and talked quietly with his uncle, his best friend and three paramedics from Guatemala who had crawled into the hole and refused to leave his side, giving him blood transfusions, oxygen, water and rice.

"He told me, 'Somebody in heaven wants me,' but I told him he has to be strong for his little girl; he has to live for his family," said Napoleon Garcia, the uncle who found Moreno alive after digging for more than an hour with his bare hands.

Late this evening, as his parents, uncle and other family members embraced, crying and praying out loud, Moreno was finally lifted out of his concrete prison. Exhausted firefighters, construction workers, girl scouts, nurses, doctors and paramedics cheered loudly.

The long battle to free Moreno, a keyboardist in a band called Groupo Algodon, which has played many times for the Salvadoran community in Washington, was one of the few hopeful moments Sunday. Local officials using helicopters to assess the damage estimated 20,000 homes and businesses had been damaged or destroyed across the country. Numerous strong aftershocks Sunday triggered more landslides that could be identified from afar by billows of reddish orange dust rising from the craggy hills around the city.

Much of San Salvador was without water after a main water line ruptured, leading to worries that health problems could arise in coming days.

Henry Weiss, an American engineer who works in El Salvador, was standing on the second floor of a concrete building when the quake hit. "I thought the world had come to an end," he said. "The building moved up and down, and the 10-story building in front of me was swaying back and forth. You have never felt anything like that."

Many American aid groups, including the Red Cross, and others from as far away as Taiwan moved quickly to transport relief workers and supplies to El Salvador. That effort was delayed because the airport in San Salvador was closed until Sunday afternoon and several key roads are impassable.

Following Hurricane Mitch in 1998, which left 3 million people in Central America homeless, the Red Cross stored blankets, plastic sheeting for temporary shelters and other disaster supplies in El Salvador and Guatemala. Sunday, workers -- some wearing Hurricane Mitch T-shirts -- pulled out those supplies for the latest natural disaster to hit a nation that has suffered earthquakes, hurricanes and war in recent decades.

An earthquake that struck El Salvador in 1986 killed more than 1,500 people. Saturday's quake was centered in the Pacific Ocean just off the southwestern coast and was felt in Guatemala, where at least two people died.

Still, there was almost no obvious sign of damage in much of the capital, or the countryside. On a five-hour drive Sunday morning from Guatemala City to San Salvador, only small scattered landslides and a handful of collapsed houses could be seen. In San Salvador, a city of 500,000 people, most went about their Sunday business, strolling through parks in fresh church clothes. The only sign of anything out of the ordinary was the thumping of helicopters overhead.



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