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Central America Quake Kills Dozens

January 14, 2001

SAN SALVADOR, El Salvador (AP) _ A major earthquake shook Central America on Saturday, unleashing a landslide that buried hundreds of houses near San Salvador and causing major damage across the country.

About 1,200 people are believed to be missing in the buried Las Colinas neighborhood just west of the capital, according to Red Cross spokesman Carlos Lopez Medina, who said 61 people were known to be dead across the country.

The national police said it estimated the death toll at near 100.

Salvadoran President Francisco Flores declared a national emergency and appealed for international aid, especially for experts at searching for buried victims.

The 7.6-magnitude quake centered off El Salvador’s southern coast also rocked Honduras and Guatemala, where two deaths were reported. Buildings swayed in Mexico City, about 600 miles to the northwest.

Hundreds of rescuers frantically ripped at the earth with sticks and bare hands to reach those buried in the middle class Las Colinas area, where a 1,500-foot landslide carried away houses, cars and trees.

A distraught Arturo Magana, 25, wandered about trying to find his 18-year-old brother, Jaime:

``I don’t know where to dig because I don’t know where the house is,″ he said.

``This is terrible. I don’t think we will be able to pull out any victims; everything has been buried,″ said David Lara, a rescue worker struggling at the mass of dirt and concrete with a shovel.

Lopez estimated that 300 houses had been destroyed in Las Colinas. The wall of a hospital collapsed in the southeastern town of San Miguel and 25 people were known to be dead in a small village nearby.

``There is my boy! Help me! Help me!″ wailed Carmen de Marin, a 41-year-old woman weeping beside the buried ruins of her house there.

She said her 12-year-old son Jaime Ernesto Marin had stayed home to await a phone call from his father in the United States when she went out shopping shortly before the quake hit at about 11:35 a.m.

By night, 20 bodies had been recovered at Las Colinas. No survivors had yet been found.

News of the damage was slowed by the fact much of El Salvador’s telephone service and electricity was knocked out by the quake for several hours. Only sketchy reports had arrived from many hard-hit areas.

In Santa Ana, about 35 miles northwest of the capital, the 116-year-old El Calvario church collapsed, killing at least one employee and possibly others worshipping inside, according to the Rev. Robert Castro.

``The church is generally empty then, most everyone had already come and gone,″ said Castro, 46. ``We can only hope now that there weren’t people inside.″

The Red Cross reported that 13 people died in nearby Sosonati. Some 200 other victims were rushed to the area hospital, which authorities weren’t sure was still structurally sound.

The quake was centered off the Salvadoran coast, about 65 miles southwest of San Miguel, according to the U.S. Geological Survey in Denver, Colo.

It took more than an hour for some San Salvador radio stations to return to the air and telephone service remained spotty at mid-afternoon. There were cracked buildings and shattered windows across the city of 500,000.

Officials at San Salvador’s international airport said all flights had been halted.

Most businesses in the city also were closed _ though in a surreal touch, acrobats and dancers from a touring circus marched through the streets past frightened people, using a loudspeaker to promote a coming performance.

Police in neighboring Guatemala said a man and a 2-year-old girl were killed and three other people were injured when a pair of homes collapsed in the city of Jalpataua.

Local radio stations reported the collapse of a church in Suchitepequez, in southern Guatemala.

The quake set off car alarms and temporarily knocked out electricity, radio, television and cellular phone service all over Guatemala, but most service was quickly restored.

Honduran officials reported cracked buildings in several cities, but there were no reports of injuries.

A 1986 earthquake centered near San Salvador killed an estimated 1,500 people and injured 8,000.

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