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October 3, 2005

El Salvador survives triple threat

Flooding, hail and a volcano

By Oscar Ramirez

SAN SALVADOR, EL SALVADOR – The precipitation that poured down on Salvadoran lands last week drenched my country as I’ve never seen before. I remember always having non-stop rainfall around October and early November when I was younger. But the intensity of the rain and the chilly winds we’ve had these past days are something new.

On Thursday, Sept. 29, things started getting really ugly. I was watching the news, and I could see that people living in rural places, outside the metropolitan area, were being flooded by the rivers that had grown to monstrous proportions.

Around here, it is very common for poor people to live along rivers. What’s sad, however, is that most of these people live in mud huts, so their houses are virtually flooded away – along with everything they have.

The weather forecaster mentioned that the currents related to Tropical Storm Stan, which had hit Mexico’s peninsula, were now striking El Salvador and possibly gaining strength.

I’m lucky enough not to experience the chaos as it is. In a severe storm, people living in the city are mainly affected only by the fallen trees and the loss of some power lines.

When we realized how widespread the problem was, our charity organization at the Panamerican School decided to start a campaign in order to collect goods to give out to people that need them.

By Friday, it seemed the rain had been going on forever, with dark and gray days all week. What really made me realize things were getting serious was something that happened that afternoon.

I was just coming out of my last period physics class and I could hear the thundering in the sky. Then, the chilly winds became more than just chilly. I was starting to freeze. Suddenly, the cold was so intense I could feel it in my bones, inside of me. It was getting so cold; people were getting seriously frightened about it.

Then, as all of us students walked out of the campus, we lived something most of us had never experienced before. Ice was falling from the sky.

Even though this is common in northern and southern countries, here in Central America we never have hail storms. The coldest it gets is probably 20 ºC – warm enough to melt any ice before it hits land.

Since I’ve never been out of El Salvador, I was actually scared to feel solid water falling on my head. But I was curious enough to touch it, just to prove to myself it was really ice.

When we got to the car, the rain was now even more furious and the streets became rivers. The hail was falling on top of the car’s roof and you could hear the sound of ice crushing. It was all very scary.

That night, it rained like never before.

Then, I thought everything was going to calm down. On Saturday morning, the sun shone for a while and there was no sign of any more hail or flooding rain.

But another disaster unexpectedly struck the nation at around 8 a.m. when the volcano Ilamatepec, located in Santa Ana in the western part of the country, surprisingly erupted.

As Ilamatepec expelled incandescent rocks, ashes and boiling water, more than 5,000 people were evacuated from around the zone.

I was so concerned for these people. After first suffering the wrath of the rainfall, they were now facing Ilamatepec’s fury.

The Salvadoran government raised an orange alert because of the heavy rains and a red alert because of the volcano’s eruption. They also advised people near Santa Ana and Sonsonate not to go out of their houses because the sulphur released by the volcano mixed with the water from the precipitation creates sulphuric acid, which burns the skin.

So we are now in a nationwide alert over two simultaneous natural disasters, and the government has opened up stadiums to serve evacuees and help them cope with this ordeal.

All private and public schools have suspended classes until further notice.

Now, it’s Monday morning and the rain still isn’t stopping. The volcano, they say, has remained active and we all hope lava is not expelled

Even though it saddens me to see my country and my people go through this torment, I feel extremely thankful to be amongst the fortunate ones living safely away from the real danger.


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