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Earthquake In El Salvador

by Hilda Colato Perdomo

Twenty years ago, in January 2001, there was an earthquake of magnitude 7.6. It struck hard in El Salvador.

I was a young woman. My family and I were home when the earthquake happened. It was something unexpected, because the earth moved, the trees moved, some trees fell, and the light pole moved. During the earthquake, the volcano that is near where I live erupted with black smoke and ashes. The ashes fell onto our home. Everything around us was covered in ashes.

photograph of wooded mountains showing evidence of earthquake damage in a big swath of bare earth and falling rockWe ran into the middle of a field where there was nothing dangerous. Cars that passed on the road stopped, because the street was rolling up and down in front them. The cars were moving by themselves, like someone was pushing them. Everyone was scared. Next, we watched the news and learned that the magnitude was worse in other areas, which was more distressing. For example, the sea overflowed for nearly two miles, and many people drowned. Also, the houses, buildings, and hotels around the sea also sank into the water. The news also reported that some cities’ houses, buildings,
schools, and hospitals were destroyed. Also, the streets cracked and people were trapped inside of debris such as brick and dirt. More people died. At one moment, the mountain collapsed and fell on an entire town. Many people were trapped underground, but some people survived.

As a result, my family and I slept like farm animals in a place where cows slept. Trees could have fallen on us there. We built a camping house, built like a tent, with plastic. We were very scared. Because of the aftershocks, the ground was still moving. After a few days, my father inspected our house. It had little damage, so we moved back into our home. One month later, there was another earthquake! Again, we searched for a safe place to live.

photograph shows fallen earth and collapsed landscape, damaged buildingsEl Salvador was in an emergency red alert state for a long time, because the earthquake’s effect was felt in the economy, society and in the environment. A few hours after the disaster, a state of National Emergency was declared. The country received help such as clothes, food, shelter materials, and blankets from other nations. The government closed. Schools and many other places were also closed to avoid more accidents. The United States helped El Salvador by giving “TPS,” Temporary Protected Status permits to Salvadorans. This allowed 2001 earthquake victims to support their families by working. I was a child, and I could not directly receive that help.

You may never be prepared for what might happen in this life, such as a natural disaster like the 2001 El Salvador earthquake. It was an experience that I will never forget. It is always present in my mind, because it was something unexpected. I still feel its emotional aftershocks.