El Salvador

Earthquake of 6.6 hits El Salvador on February 13th: Update 15 Feb 2001

Situation Report
Originally published
Exactly one month after the January 13th earthquake, at 8:22 a.m. yesterday, an earthquake of 6.6 on the Richter scale1 hit El Salvador. The epicenter of the earthquake has been located 24 kilometers from San Salvador in Rosario, Cuscatlán, according to the United States Geological Survey. According to the "Center of Geo-technical Studies of El Salvador" the epicenter was in the town of San Pedro Nonualco, department of La Paz. Independently, both sources confirmed focal points at 13.9 kilometers underground. The proximity to the surface has caused major destruction. Both earthquakes have, and are, generating aftershocks. The January 13th generated approximately 350 per day during the first couple of days, but the amount had decreased to approximately 140 per day by February 12th. The February 13th earthquake has generated approximately 170 aftershocks during these first 24 hours. These aftershocks are a great threat to people, because structures weakened by the first earthquake can collapse, and landslides and rockslides can, and have occured because the soil structure has been loosened.
Yesterday's earthquake was also felt in Honduras, Guatemala, and Nicaragua, although little damage occurred. In El Salvador, the populations most affected are in the departments of Cuscatlán, San Vicente, and La Paz - the central part of the country. An estimated 50 - 70% of the infrastructure of the 25 municipalities in the before-mentioned departments has collapsed. San Salvador has suffered some damage as well, although not to the same degree. Once again the most affected have been the thousands of Salvadorans that are forced to live in adobe and bahareque2 houses, on mountainsides, and/or in marginal communities.

Officially3, the preliminary figures are:

  • At least 274 people dead.
  • 2,191 injured.
  • 12,302 houses destroyed.
  • 20 public buildings have been severely damaged.
The earthquake has caused seven seismic faults (fault lines).4

There were a number of people buried under debris or landslides in San Martín, San Salvador; San Miguel Tepezontes and San Juan Tepezontes, La Paz; Guadalupe, San Vicente; and Candelaria, Cuscatlán. Also, there are 25 landslides reported on the Chinchontepec volcano in San Vicente, with 200 people thought to have been buried beneath them.

The Pan-American Highway is closed again in many places. There have been more landslides in addition to the ones caused by the January earthquake, some of which were just recently cleared. Portions of the Highway have sunk, there are numerous cracks, and 8 kilometers are now inaccessible.

More pipelines have broken, leaving many communities that had access to running water without this basic service.

All classes have been suspended until Monday, and then only schools without severe damages will reopen.

The public hospitals of the most affected regions have been overwhelmed. The hospitals of San Vicente, Zacatecoluca, San Bartolo, Bloom (children's hospital), Military Hospital, Rosales, and Cojutepeque are over capacity. There is a lack of blood, beds, and rooms.

San Vicente: The mayor of San Vicente, the capital of the department of San Vicente, reported that approximately 60% of the houses in the municipality have been partially or completely destroyed. There are 45 people dead and 727 injured. In the city of San Vicente, one out of every two houses is destroyed. The city hall and the church must be demolished. Other cities in the department, Tepetitán, Guadalupe, San Sebastián, San Lorenzo and San Cayetano Istepeque, have suffered considerable damage. In San Cayetano Istepeque, the mayor reported that 90% of the houses have collapsed, and that 12 people have died. The municipalities of Verapáz and Guadalupe are completely destroyed. In Verapáz 23 people have died, 100 people are injured, 6 are missing, and 6,900 people are without homes. The San Gertrudis hospital, located in the capital, is over capacity. As mentioned before, 25 landslides have been reported on the Chinchontepec volcano and, presumably, 200 people are buried under these landslides. The department is without electric energy. According to the mayor, in the municipality of Jerusalén there were 6 deaths, dozens of injured, and 95% of the houses have been damaged or destroyed. Oratorio de Concepción has also suffered considerable damage.

Cuscatlán: Cuscatlán has registered 146 deaths, and 950 injured. In the municipality of Candelaria, 23 students and their teacher died at the Parochial School "Nuestra Señora de Candelaria." Ninety percent (90%) of the infrastructure in Candelaria has collapsed or is uninhabitable, and 25 people have been reported dead. Another municipality badly hit is Cojutepeque, where there are 55 people dead, 535 injured, and 90% of the houses have been damaged or destroyed - most of them adobe or bahareque houses. In the cantón La Palma, of Cojutepeque, 15 people were buried in a new landslide when they were trying to rescue the body of a child that had been buried in a landslide caused by the January quake. In the municipality of Cujuapa 92% of houses are damaged or destroyed. In San Rafael Cedros the water system was severely damaged, and one person reported dead. In San Agustín, six women were buried in a landslide as they washed clothes in a river. In Santa Cruz Michapa 50% of the houses are severely damaged. In El Carmen there have been 2 deaths and 10,000 people were made homeless. In Santa Cruz Analquito 90% of the houses are damaged or destroyed. According to the president of the "Citizens' Roundtable" (Mesa Ciudadana), in the municipality of San Pedro Perulapán, the cantón of El Espino has been completely destroyed.

Cabañas: 20 houses were destroyed in Cinquera, and 75% of homes have suffered damages.

San Salvador: 260 families were made homeless in the capital, San Salvador. In San Martín 7 people from a marginal community, Las Anémonas, were buried under debris and a landslide. Las Anémonas is a community next to a railroad track, and dozens of houses collapsed there also. The communities surrounding Lake Ilopango have suffered damages to their houses, 85% of which have collapsed. Seven people have been reported dead. The level of water in the lake has risen due to all the landslides. Houses collapsed in Apopa, Mejicanos, San Marcos, Guazapa, Cuscatancingo, Santiago Texacuangos, Nejapa, Soyapango, Santo Tomás, Ilopango, and Panchimalco. The population around the San Jacinto hill reports noises coming from the seismic fault.

Usulután: There have been landslides in Tecapán, Santiago de María and Alegría. Because of this, more than 45,000 people need to be evacuated because they are in high risk areas. 15,000 people are at risk in the municipality of Alegría, and 30,000 are in the same situation in Santiago de María.

La Paz: There have been 50 people reported dead, and 514 injured. Although all municipalities have been hit, the most affected are: San Miguel Tepezontes (8 dead), San Juan Tepezontes (3 dead) the municipality was almost completely destroyed, San Emigdio (5 dead), Paraíso de Osorio (15 dead), Santa María Ostuma (15 dead), San Pedro Nonualco (4 dead), Olocuilta (1 dead), San Pedro Masahuat (1 dead), and Mercedes La Ceiba (1 dead). In every one of these places approximately 90% of the houses have collapsed from the first or second quake, people are sleeping in the street, and temporary shelters have not yet been set up in most places. Most families have taken over empty land to camp in. In San Francisco Chinameca, the cantones have been most affected, although in the town several houses fell. People in the cantones are at risk due to the threat of landslides, particularly those living along the steep slopes going down to Lake Ilopango. These people should be evacuated. Cantones already damaged by the January earthquake are now even worse off, such as Los Planes, which is now about 80% destroyed.5 Many roads in the La Paz are inaccessible due to landslides, such as the old highway between San Salvador and Zacatecoluca, the "Panorámica" around Lake Ilopango, and many secondary roads. According to the mayor, Santa María Ostuma is about 95% destroyed, lacks electric energy, running water, telephone, and shelters. There are 15 people dead, mostly children. The severely injured were referred to the Santa Teresa hospital, in Zacatecoluca, which is completely overwhelmed. According to family members, at least 12 people were disappeared under landslides. In San Pedro Nonualco, the town where, according to the "Center of Geo-technical Studies of El Salvador" the epicenter was, the majority of houses are destroyed, five people died, and most of the electric posts have fallen on top of the houses.

La Libertad: There was a small landslide in Las Colinas.

Chalatenango: In the capital, 50 houses have collapsed. In the municipality of San Luis del Carmen 90% of homes have fallen. There have been huge landslides in Dulce Nombre de María, El Poy and other sectors surrounding the highway "Troncal del Norte".

San Miguel: San Juan de Dios National Hospital is uninhabitable. Landslides in the Limbo and Pacayal hills have occurred.

Apparently, the government has decided to receive aid in the Military Base of Ilopango, because of its proximity to Cuscatlán, La Paz, and San Vicente. "Last time we had a setback. We wanted to have our supply lines in the warehouses of the International Fairgrounds. We are not going to commit the same error", said Flores in a press conference yesterday. He recognized that, during the first days after the January quake, aid was too centralized, but according to him, that "quickly changed". Also, the government has said that now it is going to modify the reconstruction plan which will be presented at the meeting of the Consultative Group in Madrid on March 7. The meeting will not be delayed, and Flores has restated that he will not ask for debt forgiveness. Consistent with his way of policy-making, Flores has refused to reach to include others in the formation of his reconstruction "plan". The document that will be presented in Spain was written by the National Secretariat of the Presidency, which is headed by Juan José Daboub6, international advisors, and some advisors of the Ministry of Economy. Numerous civil society organizations have asked to be included in the development of a truly national plan for reconstruction. In spite of the fact that the plan is a complete mystery, Flores says that participation of all sectors has existed. The Minister of Economy says that the people made homeless by the earthquake were consulted. Since the end of last month, the Corporation of Municipalities of El Salvador (COMURES) has asked to meet with Flores in order to analyze the reconstruction program, but has received no answer. The president of COMURES, Oscar Ortiz7 has publicly denounced that the government refuses to take into account the plans presented by the municipalities, which have emphasized that the main priority of the municipalities is that the reconstruction plan not leave bigger areas of marginal communities and poverty.

The Inter-american Development Bank announced yesterday that they would approve a 20 million dollar loan in order to "help" the damages caused by both earthquakes. Fifteen million dollars would back up a project of the Fund for Social Investment and Local Development that supposedly would help 44,000 families ($341 for each family), providing them with "kits". These kits would contain tools, nails, wood, thin metal sheets for roof and plastic for walls. 3.9 million dollars would support implementation of preventive measures that would "stabilize" the mountainsides in zones of high risk as identified by the Ministry of the Environment. The rest ($1.1 million) would finance a study to determine the economic impact of the first earthquake.

Without a doubt, this second earthquake to hit El Salvador in one month has increased the devastation in the country. As was the case with the first earthquake, the most affected have been the impoverished and marginalized in the countryside. Many towns have been almost completely leveled. The short-term vision of the government is not expected to change. It has refused to take into account the plans and opinions of the mayors of the municipalities affected during the last earthquake. These people, who have a direct link with their community, know much better what their needs are, and have demonstrated a longer-term vision that includes reconstruction and development.


1 According the United States Geological Survey (USGS) the earthquake had a magnitude of 6.6. The "Center of Geo-technical Studies of El Salvador" reported that the earthquake had a magnitude of 6.1 on the Richter Scale. The Seismological Institute of Boulder, Colorado, reported that the magnitude of the earthquake was 6.1 on the Richter scale.

2 Daub and wattle (sticks placed crosswise with mud plastered over them).

3 According to various official sources, including newspapers, COEN, and televised news reports.

4 Press conference of the Ministry of the Environment, February 14, 2001.

5 First hand report from the grassroots organizers in La Paz, who visited the department yesterday.

6 Known for the privatization of ANTEL, and one of the instigators of the dollarization law.

7 FMLN mayor of Santa Tecla.