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Stench of Death in Streets, Aftershocks Constant Reminder of Earthquake

October 15, 1986

SAN SALVADOR, El Salvador (AP) _ ″Our house? It fell,″ Graciela de Martinez, a hotel maid, said Tuesday with a shrug of acceptance. ″But the family is well, thank God. ... We are optimistic.″

For those who lived through Friday’s devastating earthquake, Tuesday was another day of surviving, often without such basics as beans and rice.

President Jose Napoleon Duarte, in a nationally televised news conference Tuesday night, raised the official casualty figures from the Friday quake to 982 dead and 10,000 injured.

He said the disaster caused at least $1.2 billion in damage, but that the estimate did not include the cost of demolishing ruined buildings or damage caused to the public telephone and power services.

The president earlier had put damage at $2 billion, but stressed that figure was a personal estimate.

Duarte also said there had been 1,222 aftershocks since the quake.

The stench of death filled the streets, under a hot sun. Unrecovered bodies lay under scores of buildings reduced to rubble. Hundreds of aftershocks reminded jittery residents of the killer earthquake that struck their capital and left sections of this city of 800,000 looking like a war zone.

But Salvadorans, hardened by seven years of civil war and accustomed to making do, buried their dead and tried to rebuild their lives.

Many admitted they were nervous, but accepted their fate, hoped for better days, and fell back on a strong religious faith.

″It is the same situation. Only God knows for sure, but we have confidence in Him. What more can we do,″ said Argentina de Hernandez after one aftershock.

Duarte told this Central American nation in a televised news conference Monday night that 25 planeloads of help had arrived from governments and private organizations throughout the world - field hospitals, technicians, medical supplies and teams, food, temporary shelters, clothing.

Duarte said 2,379 homes were leveled and 30,988 families forced into the streets because their homes were too damaged to use.

One rough estimate was that nearly 200,000 residents may be homeless in San Salvador. Some people simply strung hammocks between trees to have a place to sleep.

″Goodwill is not enough,″ the president said. ″We still have thousands on the streets. We ask the international community to help us.″

The government television channel throughout the morning broadcast appeals for aid and read the names of survivors so family members would know their fate.

The government labored to distribute food, clothing and materials for shelters, but Duarte said a great deal more was needed.

At the Ruben Dario building, said to be the hardest hit, the hunt for survivors kept up, buoyed by the rescue there Monday of two women and a man. The three had survived in the tons of rubble that once was a five-story building housing offices and stores in the center of the capital.

Workers wore surgical masks or handerchiefs over the faces, against the odor and to guard against disease.

The overpowering smell confused specially trained dogs sniffing for survivors, their handlers said, preventing the dogs from knowing which direction to go in their search.

In the devastated, working-class San Jacinto neighborhood, Swiss rescuers with dogs methodically searched an area where many homes lay under up to 18 feet of sand and dirt that slid into the ravine.

Many stores remained closed, either because of structural damage, lack of water and electricity, or because the owners are not there to open the doors.

Roberto Babun, who manages three restaurants, said that after talking with other business people he estimated 40 percent of the businesses in the capital would have to relocate.

″We think it will not be problem for us. But there are others who are not as fortunate,″ he said, as workers removed spoiled meat and fish from the restaurant’s useless refrigerators.

Friday’s destruction was random. Some neighborhoods were wrecked completely. In others, life went on as normal.

The duty of dealing with the dead continued. Family members gathered at cemeteries for a few quick minutes of prayers of tribute.

In many cases, there was no time or money for coffins. Many of the dead were simply wrapped in blankets and placed in the ground as workers toiled nearby digging new graves. Others were placed in common graves.

The U.S. Embassy building was among the buildings damaged.

U.S. official sources have put the number of Americans killed at three, including Harry Jacobson, 73, originally from Racine, Wis., and two people with dual U.S. and Salvadoran citizenship, who lived in San Salvador.

Jacobson owned the Gran Hotel San Salvador. Rescuers said he died in the wreckage of that building.