Climate Change, Disasters, El Salvador Government

Video Footage of the Rescue from the Lower Lempa

As we have been reporting, the flooding in the communities of Nueva Esperanza, Ciudad Romero, Zamorano, Nueva Amanecer, and other communities in the Lower Lempa have been extreme. Last night we posted some photos from Zamorano and elsewhere in the region. Last night Channel 12 in El Salvador showed footage from Nueva Esperanza and the dramatic evacuations from Sunday night and Monday. The video begins with footage from Mata de Piña, which was about where main road through the region became to dangerous. Later in the video, there is footage from the rescue yesterday in Nueva Esperanza, after the floodwater had begun to recede.

Those readers who have traveled with us to the region on delegations have been to these places, though you may not recognize them. You may also recognize some of the people being rescued and even some of the people doing the rescuing.

As we mentioned yesterday, Michael Terry and Laura Turiano are matching the next $2000 in donations that we receive for flood relief. If you contribute now, your donations will be doubled. Please click on the Donate Now button above and help us respond this crisis. Though the water is receding, the recovery challenges are daunting, and the communities in the Lower Lempa need your help!

Advocacy, Climate Change, Disasters, Food Security, Hydro Electric Dams

Pictures of Evacuations and Shelters in Jiquilisco, Monday & Tuesday

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Climate Change, Disasters, El Salvador Government, Food Security, Hydro Electric Dams

Matching Grant – Donate Now!

Michael Terry and Laura Turiano just pledged to match the next $2000 donated to Voices for flood relief. So if you click on the donate now button, we can match your contribution. If you donate $100, it will become $200!

The water is receding somewhat, but the need for food, water, clothing, and medical supplies is only increasing. Many communities in the Lower Lempa lost everything, and they need our assistance right now.

So click on the Donate Now Button to the right of this page, your contribution will be doubled!

Thanks to Michael and Laura, and all others who have contributed to this effort.

Climate Change, Disasters, El Salvador Government, Food Security, Hydro Electric Dams, International Relations

Flood Update – Tuesday

Sorry that we’ve been slow with an update this morning, but we didn’t receive much information out of the Lower Lempa until a moment ago.

Some good news to report; the communities of Nueva Esperanza, Ciudad Romero, Zamorano and others that are completely underwater have been completely evacuated. We have been worried about a group of 57 people (last night we reported 40, but that number was revised upward this morning) were stuck on the top of the Nueva Esperanza Community center and then the bell tower of the church last night. We just received word that they reached the emergency shelter at about noon today.

The water has also begun to recede a bit. While the road is still flooded in some places it is possible to get large trucks all the way down to La Canoa, which has been cut off for the past couple of days. Our staff also met up with several people from the shelter in Amando Lopez who made their way up to the main road and rode their bicycles through the flood waters all the way up to San Marcos.

The shelters are full in San Marcos, Tierra Blanca, Angela Montano, and Jiquilisco, and the conditions are poor, but our staff reports that supplies are starting to arrive.

The weather is supposed to be clearing up today, though our staff reports that it is still raining in the Lempa. Officials from Civil Protection have warned the general public that even if the weather is nice today, the forecast is for storms tomorrow and possibly Thursday so no one should let their guard down.

The latest reports are that there are 32 confirmed deaths in El Salvador, and two people are reported as missing. Schools and universities remain closed today and probably tomorrow. El is reporting that the official number of evacuees remains at 32,000, and that over 20,000 houses have been destroyed.

The King of Spain has sent a Boeing 727 full of relief supplies to El Salvador, and it is currently sitting at the military airport in Comalapa being unloaded.

Though the news today is not as bad as yesterday, there are many, many concerns about what’s ahead. Eduardo Espinoza, the Vice-Minister of Public Health, is warning that the greatest threat to public health at this moment is contaminated well water. He is very concerned that in rural communities contaminated water will result in high rates of gastrointestinal infections, typhoid fever, hepatitis, and other diseases. The populations most affected by these diseases are the ones living in shelters and have little or no access to medical care. The ministry is working to get doctors and public health experts to the shelters.

Before the rains started last week, the government was predicting record harvests of basic grains like corn and beans. One estimate is that 80% of the nation’s agricultural crops are lost – which will devastate the local economy and food security. The Consumer Defense agency, a private advocacy and watchdog group in El Salvador, is monitoring the prices of foods and other products, especially imports, and so far there has not been a rise in food prices, but it is a real fear in the coming days and weeks.

The Voices staff is currently drafting a couple posts on different aspects of this disaster, and we’ll have a slideshow and update from the Lower Lempa later this afternoon.

Climate Change, Disasters, El Salvador Government, Food Security, Hydro Electric Dams, International Relations, Mauricio Funes

US Embassy Announces Aid for Flood Relief

Today the U.S. Embassy in San Salvador announced an aid package worth $50,000 to support the Salvadoran Ministry of Civil Protection’s efforts to respond to the worst flooding in the country’s modern history. The package will help buy “fuel for emergency vehicles, as well as portable kitchen sets and hygiene kits for people staying in government shelters.”

The Embassy statement also says that they are “distributing equipment that was previously donated to the government of El Salvador by USAID in anticipation of this type of emergency.” The equipment includes plastic sheeting, 2800 hygiene kits, shovels, and other tools.

In a similar announcement, La Prensa Grafica is reporting this evening that the International Development Bank is releasing the first $25 million of a $50 million loan package. President Funes tonight said that the funds will be used for recovering from the disaster. The La Prensa Grafica article also reports that the governments of Spain, Taiwan, Guatemala and the United States have offered assistances, as has the Central American Bank of Economic Integration and the United Nations Development Program, but it is unclear whether any support has actually to reach those in shelters.

President Funes tonight also confirmed that there are 32 confirmed deaths in El Salvador, and that 3 other people are reported as missing, and 32,000 are evacuated to emergency shelters.

Another article in La Prensa Grafica reports that the Legislative Assembly today voted unanimously to declare a national emergency for the next 60 days. In part that waives all duties on aid coming into the country from aid organizations.

While the US Embassy’s contribution is a nice start, the international community seems a little slow to respond. The flooding, at least in the Lower Lempa region of Usulután, has reached epic proportions. There are thousands of people in shelters with no food or water, and many others are still stuck in their communities.

Perhaps the lack of international aid is linked to the lack of coverage by the international media. The AP put out a story yesterday that was carried on the Huffington Post, and the blogs for a couple major news outlets. But a quick scan of some of the major news websites (NY Times, Washington Post, CNN, BBC, NPR, Al-Jazeera English) found not one story on the flooding in Central America; forget about a story focusing on El Salvador. Maybe that will change with tomorrow’s news cycle.

This apparent lack of attention makes your contribution and support all the more important. Please help us in two ways:

1) Click on the Donate Now button and make a financial contribution to flood relief – we’ll make sure it gets directly to the community; and

2) inform others about the devastation and ask them to make a contribution.

We’ll be providing another update tomorrow morning.


Climate Change, Disasters, El Salvador Government

Worse than Hurricane Mitch – Complete Destruction!

Voices project coordinator  just called from the back of a truck in Zamorano, in the Lower Lempa and is reporting that the flooding is worse than what the region experienced during the 1998 flooding caused by Hurricane Mitch. In Nueva Esperanza, Ciudad Romero, Zamorano and other nearby communities the water is almost to the roofs of many houses.

In addition to water, the current is depositing large quantities of sand and silt from the riverbed into homes and businesses, resulting in near complete destruction.

The report from Comunidad Octavio Ortiz (also appropriately called La Canoa – the Canoe) and Amando López is that they are relatively safe and secure. COO, which is located south of Nueva Esperanza and the other communities that are completely flooded out, is completely shut off from the rest of the region. The shelter in Amando López is cooking food and serving other communities in the region that are also cut off from help. Though isolated, their spirits seem to be okay.

We are also hearing reports that the September 15 Dam just upriver from the Lower Lempa has been releasing as much as 12,000 cubic meters per sec. As we’ve stated in previous posts, 2500 cm/sec is cause for extreme alarm. As of an hour ago, the river remains 10.5 meters (34 feet) above normal.

Our local staff is taking a lot of pictures today and we will try to get them up on this blog and Facebook tonight, if they can find internet.

We continue our fundraising effort and with every drop of rain that falls, your help becomes more urgent. Please click on the Donate Now button and ask your friends and family to do the same.

Climate Change, Disasters, El Salvador Government, Uncategorized

Lower Lempa Flood Update – Monday Afternoon

Voices staff was able to get back down to the Lower Lempa this afternoon to coordinate with rescue efforts and get more information about the conditions. Here is the latest.

Currently there are 686 families from the Lower Lempa in the San Marcos shelter, with hundreds of other families from the region in the Tierra Blanca and Jiquilisco shelters. Though these families are safe from floodwaters, conditions in the shelters are bad. There are few mattresses or blankets, and food is scarce. Our staff is working with shelter organizers to provide meals and secure appropriate bedding and clothing.

For our readers from the South Bay Sanctuary Covenant, your partner community of Comunidad Octavio Ortiz (La Canoa) has sent 42 families to the shelter in San Marcos. The other 50 families are in the community shelter where they are safe, but completely cut off from assistance. Members of a military team are stuck in the community with them.

For other partners with ties to Amando Lopez – many families made it to the Jiquilisco shelter but many others remain in the community shelter, cut off from any assistance. They are safe for the time being, but are unable to evacuate.

This afternoon a member of Voices staff came across an agricultural cooperative in Mata de Piña where workers were trying to salvage their corn crop that they were almost ready to harvest. Members of the cooperative were working in waist-deep water, picking, shucking, and grinding corn in hopes of salvaging something. This is a bleak reminder of what is to come in the weeks and months ahead. The region has lost all its crops and will be dependent on food aide programs for the foreseeable future. Today – we’ll just focus on the basics… food, clothing, and shelter.

Rescue teams are currently evacuating approximately 160 people from Nueva Esperanza, where flood levels have now reached 1.5 meters (5 feet) deep.  Mayor Barahona of Jiquilisco is trying to evacuate everyone out, but efforts are slow due to the high water.

We have also heard an unconfirmed report that a boat carrying five people overturned and four people have drowned. Again, that report is unconfirmed and we are trying to get more details.

The September 15th Dam continues to release at 7200 cubic meters/sec, which is extremely high – as we’ve mentioned before, 2500 cm/sec triggers a red alert for flooding. We’ve been monitoring the river levels on the United States Geological Service page (link), and as of 2:00 pm Eastern Time the river remains 10.5 meters (34 feet) above normal.

Railroad bridge crossing the Lempa River taken on Thursday. Since then the river level has risen and is currently 5 feet from the bottom of the bridge

To put this in perspective, for readers who are familiar with the old railroad bridge that spans the Lempa River in San Marcos, the river is approximately 5 feet from the bottom of the bridge.

The international press finally began reporting on this story late yesterday. A couple hours ago the Christian Science Monitor posted a story written by Tim Muth (of Tim’s Blog fame) detailing the disaster. We are grateful that Tim list Voices on the Border as one of the organizations to consider for donations.

Please contribute today! Readers of this blog have been very generous in the past couple of days, but the needs are overwhelming. Thousands of people are in need of food, clothing and shelter. We will make another wire transfer down to El Salvador tomorrow morning. Please help us raise another $5000 between now and then to support local efforts. The Donate Now Button is at the top of this page, and it will only take a moment of your time.

Thank you!

Advocacy, Disasters, El Salvador Government, Hydro Electric Dams

Monday Flood Update!

Rain continues to fall over El Salvador and is forecast to do so for the next 48 hours. Last night the September 15th Dam was releasing water at an incredible 9000 cubic meter per second. To put that in perspective, at 2500 cm/sec the communities down river brace for flooding. The dam has not released at such high levels since Hurricane Mitch, which devastated the region in 1998. In fact, the total rainfall has now exceeded what fell during the infamous storm.

As a result, the Lempa Rivera is now pouring over the levees and into the communities. Our partners in the Lower Lempa report that there is 3.5 feet of water standing in Nueva Esperanza, Zanmorano, Ciudad Romero, and other communities.  The water is so high that the shelters in these communities have flooded and are being evacuated. Los Lotes, Babilonia, El Angel, Conventos, Las Arañas, Marillo, La Casona, and Marillo II are also evacuated.

The Camandos de Salvamentos are reporting this morning that last night they were trapped in the community of El Marillo until 3:30 this morning trying to evacuate 32 people. They were successful in getting this group to the shelter in San Marcos Lempa, but another 300 people remain trapped in El Angel and El Marillo. One of the trapped is a 62-year old woman who has a fractured spinal chord caused when a tree fell on her during the storm. Salvadoran media are also reporting that rescue teams, including those from the military and Comandos de Salvamento are trapped with evacuees in communities cut off from the rest of the region by raging flood waters.

According to La Prensa Grafica, rescue squads evacuated 2000 people last night in the lower lempa, bringing the total number of evacuees in the region to 4000, a number that is likely grossly underreported.

Life in the shelters is not good. We spoke with one of our friends who had been in the shelter in Amando Lopez but was moved yesterday to a shelter in Jiquilisco. She said that they have no blankets or mattresses, and spent the night on a cold, wet concrete floor. With funding from Voices (i.e. those of you who have contributed so far), she is going to local store this morning to purchase underwear for elderly women in the shelter who have diarrhea and were unable to bring a change of clothes when they evacuated.

Nationwide, 32 people have died as a result of the storms that began last Tuesday.  Tens of thousands are in shelters, and the entire country remains on red alert. Roads have been buried in landslides, bridges have been washed out, and much of the country is a disaster area.

Last night we received an email from our friend Cristina Starr who summed up a lot of the national efforts well:

“Government ministers and workers at all levels are laboring around the clock, the president comes on with messages every night and other officials during the day, journalists are working pretty much non-stop as well, you can see the stress accumulating.

Just a few weeks ago the Japanese government donated a bunch of little and big bulldozers and what good timing that was, they are all running around the country opening up roads.

In february the government got a loan from the world bank for 50 million dollars to be released when there are emergencies and apparently half of that will be coming shortly.”

There is some good news. For several years, Voices and many other international and domestic organizations have invested significant time and resources into preparing for disasters like this. And it seems to be paying off. The level of organization and coordination between the different government agencies and organizations has saved lives. But for these investments over the years, the death toll and impact on human life would be far greater.

We are continuing to support efforts in the shelter and will be taking more materials down to the communities today.

In previous posts we’ve call on you to support our efforts. So far you’ve come through with a bit over $5000 that is already buying mattresses, clothing and food. While this is a great start, the needs in the shelters are growing exponentially. Many readers of this blog have donated, but many more have not. Every little bit helps at this point, so please click on the DONATE NOW button and help now. We’ll likely be making wire transfers every day, so your support will arrive in the communities within 24 hours of your contribution.

And please share this post with your friends and family, and ask them to make a contribution.

Advocacy, Disasters

Crisis in El Salvador! Please Help Now

The situation here in El Salvador has become truly critical in the past 24 hours.  The number of evacuated persons has risen to at least 13,878 and Civil Protection continues to call for more.  In the past 12 hours over 200 ml (approximately 8 inches) of rain fell nation wide, and the death toll has risen to at least 27 people.  Many roads are now impassable due to flooded rivers and creeks, as well as land slides.  Civil Protection has registered 590 land slides, 472 damaged or destroyed homes, and 998 homes in grave risk.

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We cannot stress enough the devastation that has occurred over the past 72 hours.  The entire country is on red alert, frantically trying to get basic necessities to shelters and communities around the country.

In the Lower Lempa the CEL is currently releasing 8000 cubic meters of water per second, levels not seen since Hurricane Mitch in 1998.  The levees are already seriously compromised and the Mayor  of Jiquilisco is calling for a complete evacuation of the Lower Lempa, as ordered by Civil Protection.  The Salvadoran Navy and Armed Forces has dispached boats and vehicles to help facilitate evacuations.

We at Voices are working with the Civil Protection Central Command out of Ciudad Romero. They have asked us, for right now, to provide support to the shelters in Amando Lopez and Comunidad Octavio Ortiz, which we are doing. This afternoon, Civil Protection is evacuating the Amando Lopez Shelter, which is at capacity. As the Rio Lempa continues to rise through the afternoon and into the evening, we expect that the numerous families that have so far not evacuated to make their way to the Amando Lopez shelter, and they will need our support. We will also continue assisting the evacuees as they move to the shelter in San Marcos. Right now we are focused on the basics: food, clothing, and shelter.

Again, if you have not donated for this emergency, we urge you to do so.  This weather is projected to last into the coming week, and any and all aid is urgent and necessary.  Also we have noticed that there is a lack of coverage in the international press – please help spread the word!

We are making a wire transfer to the communities tomorrow morning, so please help tonight by clicking on the Donate Now button to the right of this page. No amount is too small or big.

And please share this bolg post with your friends and Family on Facebook

Advocacy, Disasters

Saturday Night

Voices staff is headed back down to the Lower Lempa tonight, where a total of some 2,570 + personas are evacuated, and many more unsure of how they’ll get through the storm.  Many families are also camped out along the road, with their homes flooded out, but unwilling to go to a shelter.

We are meeting up with a delivery of mattresses from our friends ADES, in Cabañas.  The mattresses will be delivered to the Amando López shelter, where 460 people are currently sharing 30 mattresses.

The Prensa Grafica reports 8,000 people evacuated at the national level, but since the numbers have been increasing rapidly this afternoon, we imagine that it is much higher.