- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 16, 2001

Members of the Washington area's large Salvadoran community took to the streets yesterday to collect much-needed emergency supplies for their families affected by Saturday's devastating earthquake in their homeland.

Holding cardboard donation boxes, volunteers stood on street corners along Columbia Road in Adams Morgan and other areas, asking for donations of food, money, blankets and bandages to help family members who lost all their possessions, including their homes, in the quake.

"There's a desperate need for shelter, for food and water," said Saul Solorzano, a leader from Central American Resource Center in Mount Pleasant. "There are thousands of people there right now who don't have homes and who are sleeping on the streets. We need to help them as much as we can."

The earthquake measuring between 7.6 and 7.9 on the Richter scale hit the tiny Central American country at midday Saturday. The official death toll yesterday stood at 609, with more than 2,300 injured, but at least 1,200 more were believed dead, buried under collapsed buildings and homes throughout the country.

Most of the dead continued to be pulled from the rubble in the suburb of Santa Tecla, about 12.5 miles west of the capital, San Salvador, where a massive mudslide engulfed as many as 500 middle-class homes.

The quake was felt across El Salvador, Guatemala, Nicaragua and Honduras, and as far north as Mexico City.

The disaster was especially traumatic for Washington-area Salvadorans, who number about 350,000 and make up the country's largest Salvadoran community after Los Angeles, Hispanic community leaders said. The tragedy also hits close to home for the area's 510,000 Catholics, of whom 170,000 are of Hispanic descent, the majority from Central America.

Local Salvadorans said yesterday their relatives who survived the quake and hundreds of aftershocks are now homeless and, at night, are sleeping on blankets in soccer fields until they can find other shelter.

Others are sleeping in streets in front of their demolished homes.

"It's just devastating," said Jose Amaya, who moved to Northwest from El Salvador about a month ago. "It is horrible for my country and my family who's still there. They are all right, but not their friends, who lost a lot."

Vladimir Morge's mother and 78-year-old grandmother, who live near Santa Tecla, have spent the last three nights sleeping in their back yard on a mattress they managed to pull out from the rubble that used to be their home.

"They're too afraid to sleep anywhere else," said Mr. Morge, of Maryland, as he stood at the corner of Champlain Street and Columbia Road in Northwest yesterday afternoon. "I'm just happy they're OK."

But local Salvadorans are worried that survivors will need food and water by the end of this week when their current supplies run out. Some will need money because their banks were destroyed.

Karla Ramos of Northwest said she sent some money yesterday to her grandmother, whose house was destroyed. But she said she is now worried whether the 68-year-old woman will get it at all.

"I'm hoping she will get it tomorrow or the next day," Ms. Ramos said, as she stood in front of the blue-and-white El Salvadoran flag that was draped over a statue on Champlain Street. "I hope she gets it because food is very little there right now."

Meanwhile, local churches and emergency-care groups like the Red Cross rushed to organize relief efforts to help survivors.

The Washington area's Roman Catholic archbishop, Theodore E. McCarrick, was expected to send out letters today to all 140 Catholic parishes in the Archdiocese of Washington, which includes the District and Southern Maryland, asking them to raise funds for the earthquake victims.

"Here in the Archdiocese of Washington, we have many people from El Salvador," Archbishop McCarrick said in a written statement. "They make a great contribution to the life and faith of our local church. Their native land is in our prayers. We will reach out to them with comfort and material help."

Officials at the Shrine of the Sacred Heart in Northwest, where 80 percent of the congregants are Hispanic, yesterday organized emergency-response committees with other churches in Maryland and Virginia that will help collect money and medicine for victims. About 85 percent of the Hispanic congregants come from El Salvador, church officials said.

"We will be active until these people get the help they need," said Carlos Aquino, a youth minister at Sacred Heart and president of the Hispanic Pastoral Committee. "We won't give up."

Anyone interested in helping the earthquake victims can send donations to The Shrine of the Sacred Heart, 3211 Sacred Heart Way NW, Washington, D.C. 20010; or call the Rev. Vidal Rivaz at St. Gabriel's Rectory at 202/607-7237 or 202/291-5365.

• This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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