- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 16, 2001

Sergio Moreno was buried in earth and debris for more than 30 hours after El Salvador's catastrophic earthquake Saturday and survived. He said his desire to see his daughter again kept him alive. The Moreno case is giving rescue workers in El Salvador new hope.

Fortunately, the international response has been swift. U.S. helicopters, Spanish sniffer dogs, Turkish medical personnel and Latin American paramedics have been rushed in. In addition, Italy is sending $3.66 million, Britain $885,000, the European Commission $1.88 million and Japan $650,800.

Many rescue workers have been digging through dirt and debris with bare hands, in hopes of rescuing survivors or finding corpses. Saturday's magnitude-7.6 earthquake unleashed a torrent of landslides which have taken an unknown number of lives. The death toll in El Salvador's earthquake rose to more than 500 people Monday, but that figure could climb quickly.

El Salvador's president, Francisco Flores, has asked Colombia for 3,000 coffins. More than 4,000 people are missing. In the suburb of Santa Tecla, which is about 12.5 miles west of the capital, San Salvador, a massive mudslide engulfed as many as 500 homes. And a wave of aftershocks set off new landslides Monday, frustrating the work of rescuers.

Sadly, not all individuals have an equal chance of surviving natural disasters. Although an earthquake of Saturday's magnitude could cause fatalities anywhere in the industrialized world, the death tolls from these calamities in developing nations are often higher since infrastructure tends to be flimsier.

Fortunately, the government of El Salvador has been making a good effort to put the country on the path towards prosperity. In a bid to boost monetary stability and fiscal prudence, the government dollarized the country's economy this month. And according to The Heritage Foundation's and The Wall Street Journal's 2001 Index of Economic Freedom, El Salvador has cut regulatory burdens on business and is committed to reducing corruption. But the country must "work harder to prepare more of its youth for high-wage, high skilled employment," said the report, and should therefore expand educational reform.

It will take El Salvador years to upgrade its infrastructure. Hopefully, next time disaster strikes, more secure structures will be in place. All the same, a global response and rescuers willing to do anything to help can mitigate catastrophes. Surely, Sergio Moreno appreciates the work of the rescue crews that are currently hard at work.

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