I feel my heart beating

By Elizabeth Stevens
Pre-positioned aid allowed Oxfam and our local partners to deliver emergency materials quickly to those in need, despite damage to roads and bridges. Photo: Jlee

A solid concrete bridge ends midstream, as if sawn in two.

Cars lie twisted and half-buried in the mud.

White-capped waves appear in the torrent of water that sweeps past a gas station.

The scenes from the floods and landslides that struck El Salvador last weekend reflect a storm of almost unbelievable intensity.

“In San Vincente, more than a foot of rain fell in just four hours,” says Carolina Castrillo, regional director for Oxfam America.

These have been the deadliest rains since Central America’s storm of the century—Hurricane Mitch—struck El Salvador in 1998. More than 200 people are dead or missing, more than 2,000 houses have been damaged or destroyed, and crops that the rural population depends on for food have been obliterated.

“Where are we going to live, now that we have lost everything?” asked a woman in Verapaz, a town nearly destroyed by a landslide. “Where are we going to plant, what is going to happen to our lives?”

In the wake of Hurricane Mitch, many Salvadoran communities have joined forces with aid providers to reduce the deadly outcomes of violent storms and earthquakes. Over the past four years, Oxfam has supported local organizations to help form and train committees within the villages to operate early warning systems, develop evacuation plans, and administer first aid. This week, more than 70 Oxfam-supported community-protection committees were mobilized to help survivors reach the safety of shelters.

“Although this week’s storm was destructive, the partnership between aid providers and communities has made people less vulnerable than they were eleven years ago,” says Castrillo.

“Hurricanes, earthquakes, and landslides are all hazards in El Salvador, but the risks they pose to communities can be reduced,” she says. “That’s what we’re aiming for."

In the meantime, the needs on the ground are real and urgent, as survivors struggle to recover. Among their countless losses is peace of mind, as they live and relive the disaster. Days after the landslide, a boy from Verapaz describes his gripping fear: “I can’t speak because I feel my heart beating.”

Oxfam has built a warehouse stocked with emergency provisions in a disaster-prone area of El Salvador. In the November flood emergency, we were able to rush food, clean water, shelter materials, mattresses, first aid kits, and other essentials to shelters for displaced people, while making plans to help ensure longer-term food security when people return to their homes.

Donate now to Oxfam’s Global Emergency Response.

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