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RAY SUAREZ: For more on the earthquake we turn to El Salvador’s Ambassador to the United States, Rene Leon.
Welcome, Mr. Ambassador.
RENE LEON: Thank you very much, sir.
RAY SUAREZ: What’s the latest word that you’ve gotten from your country on the state of the rescue and search?
RENE LEON: We have been receiving information that the rescue efforts continue. That more victims are being drawn literally from the ground, because their houses were buried in an area very close to San Salvador, but also that the extension of the damage is very bad, in the sense that this might be the worst natural disaster that has ever hit El Salvador. There are other communities near San Salvador, the captain city of El Salvador, who also need rescue effort, especially the town of Comasawa, which is a mountainous town which is very close to Santa Tecla, the place where the rescue efforts are mainly concentrated, where we have more houses that are under the gravel and basically people are trapped inside these houses. We are also receiving information that more governments and countries have sent rescue teams and rescue equipment to El Salvador. However, we need more help in terms of hospital equipment for our hospital to take care of the victims such as batteries, such as electrical emergency plans, such as water tanks and also medical supply, like syringes and serums and antibiotics and anti-virals, because the situation is basically right now in an emergency phase, and we foresee that these emergency phases that include the rescue of victims will continue in maybe the next three days.
RAY SUAREZ: So after that you really begin to lose hope that any further people will be found alive?
RENE LEON: All the experts are telling that in order for our rescue teams to rescue people alive, the first 24 hours are critical; however, there have been instances where after five days, people could survive in conditions, such as those who are present right now in El Salvador. So I think that the next 48 hours are critical, since this earthquake took time about 12:30 PM Eastern Time last Saturday in El Salvador. So not even 72 hours have elapsed since then. So I think that there are still hopes that, you know, some victims will be found alive in these areas.
RAY SUAREZ: Many people who survived or survived without injuries are now homeless. What do you need to do for them in the next week to two weeks?
RENE LEON: Well, basically to find them a temporary shelter and then to go on into medium term and long term reconstruction projects, so that we can find housing for these people. As a matter of fact, we have report that more than 35,000 houses or homes have been completely destroyed and that a number much, much higher of houses have been damaged, or some of them severely damaged by the earthquake that had an intensity of 7.6 rating on the richter scale. That speaks by itself of how powerful this event was in our country. Let me tell you that we are organizing ourselves in order to get monetary funds to be channeled to El Salvador. People who want to help can call through the International Red Cross to the number 1-800-HELP-NOW. And you can specify that you want to make a donation for the earthquake victims in El Salvador, and the International Red Cross will channel these funds to the people that need it the most, this help right in El Salvador.
RAY SUAREZ: But you would prefer that they send money rather than the actual things, blankets, clothing?
RENE LEON: Yes, sir, simply because we learned some lesson from Hurricane Mitch. Two years ago, Central America was also badly hit by another natural disaster on that occasion. That occasion was Hurricane Mitch, and one of the things we learned is that sometimes it can become a logistical nightmare trying to send goods from the United States or other countries in the world to El Salvador in the middle to a crisis or to the country who were at that moment struck by Hurricane Mitch. So we’ve learned that the fastest way, the more transparent way and the most easiest way to channel resources to people in need to our countries is, of course, through monetary donations. However, in the case of the equipment that I am talking to you about, like electrical plans, batteries, tents and medical supplies, I think that those type of equipment we can find through our national airline which is Groupotaca, or through the Pentagon or other sources. We can find ways to mobilize these kind of donations that are also needed very badly right now in El Salvador.
RAY SUAREZ: A lot of the press reports coming out of your country and coming over the airwaves through radio and television, are mentioning that perhaps the destruction didn’t have to be as bad as it was because of where if buildings were and the fact that many trees were cut down making the earth easy to move in the case of an earthquake. Do you have earthquake codes to prevent sensitive areas from being built on?
RENE LEON: Yes, sir. We have, and I have also heard from experts that given the magnitude of the earthquake, the level of destruction was minor in comparison with the potential destruction in an earthquake this big could have caused, and I think that also we learned a lesson of our last earthquake on October 10, 1986, where we had a number of buildings who collapsed in the capital city of El Salvador. This earthquake was as big as that one, and you haven’t seen so many infrastructures that have collapsed in the way they collapsed in 1986. And this is basically because the buildings were, in the infrastructure in general, were better built and better prepared for this type of event. The problem here is that the force of nature was so big, that I would tell you the story of my house. My parents live in El Salvador and we have a water tank underground to supply the needs of water that we may have for household purposes. And in my house, the water tank that we have underground was completely empty after the earthquake, because the forces of the earthquake simply took all the water that was underground outside the water tank — meaning that if power of the devastation was so big that the mountain in this case, this hill completely collapsed because of the force of nature.
RAY SUAREZ: Mr. Ambassador, good luck to you and to your country.
RENE LEON: Thank you very much and thank you very much for this opportunity and for providing us the opportunity to ask people for help for the Salvadorians who are in need of help right now. Thank you very much, sir.
RAY SUAREZ: Thank you.