by James Solheim
[ENS] While the people of El Salvador continue to dig out from a disastrous 13 January earthquake, living in fear of additional aftershocks, authorities are trying to assess the damage.
Most of the destruction and loss of life centered along the Pacific Coast of the country, near the epicenter of the quake, and in communities west and north of the capital city of San Salvador.
At this point, only one member of La Iglesia Anglicana de El Salvador (Anglican Church of El Salvador), has been killed--a four-year-old girl. Yet homes and church property were heavily damaged, and Salvadoran Anglicans now face the daunting task of rebuilding. The Red Cross reported over 400 confirmed deaths nationwide, but a thousand are reported missing in an area west of the capital where a mile-long landslide buried hundreds of homes. Police estimate that almost 4,700 houses have been destroyed and over 16,000 damaged.
Ana Emilia Gomez, treasurer and administrator of La Iglesia Anglicana, was visiting her mother when the quake hit. "All was lost, it seemed, in a second," she said. She and her mother narrowly escaped the house as it collapsed. "But we were safe. It was God's grace that led me to be where she was during the quake," she added.
Despite the loss, Gomez clings to a stubborn hope in the future. "We will all rebuild," she said. "We always do. We will be with the people in their need. It is always the poor who suffer the most."
A people of hope
Dean Luis Serrano was at the pro-cathedral of San Juan la Evangelista, preparing for Sunday worship, when the quake struck Saturday morning at 11:35. In a matter of seconds, huge cracks formed in the walls of the church, rendering it unsafe and forcing the congregation to meet on an adjacent patio the next day. Serrano returned to his home to find "everything in my house on the floor--everything was broken, there was glass and debris everywhere." He left his home because it lies in the area of the mudslide near Santa Tecla.
The community, Serrano reported, was devastated, "but our people have been through this many times. We suffer but we are a people of hope," he said. "What matters is life. We'll begin again, as before."
Bishop Martin Barahona was at a meeting in Colombia at the time of the quake and was not able to return for several days. "I suffer for my people," he said when contacted by phone. "I pray that God will give us strength to live these coming days and find new ways of solidarity and care. We will need a lot of help from our friends."
A lay Roman Catholic missionary working in the country reported that many people, in their panic, are remembering past traumas--including the civil war that ended just nine years ago and another devastating earthquake in 1986.
Through Action by Churches Together (ACT), the Lutherans have opened two refugee centers to provide shelter for the victims and sent emergency teams to the areas most affected. The area near the epicenter is completely cut off because all the roads are blocked.
ERD calls for support
Episcopal Relief and Development (formerly the Presiding Bishop's Fund for World Relief) responded quickly with an emergency grant of $25,000 and offers of assistance. Once diocesan officials have taken time to assess their needs, ERD will provide additional support. ERD executive director Sandra Swan said that her office was in the middle of preparing a mailing to the church's congregations and was able to include information on the Salvadoran situation.
"In the past few months, we have been in on-going dialogue with Bishop Barahona about the development needs of the diocese and now expect to shift our focus to relief and rehabilitation after the tragedy," she said. "We intend to remain with the survivors in El Salvador, helping them rebuild their lives. The strength and nature of our response will depend on the support of Episcopalians across the United States. We hope," she added, "to be able to mount an extensive program of reconstruction similar to what we have done in Honduras."
A newly formed foundation, Fundación Cristosal, is also receiving funds to help the church in El Salvador. Began by Richard Bower, the retired dean of St. Paul's Cathedral in Syracuse, New York, it deals specifically with support for the work of the Anglican Church of El Salvador by opening lines of communication and building bridges through exchange visits. Last fall Bishop Barahona authorized the foundation to act as one of the agencies to respond in times of crisis.