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The BBC's Mike Lanchin
"Tons of thick mud slid down from the surrounding mountain range"
 real 56k

The BBC's Peter Greste in Mexico City
"Central America is vulnerable to nature's whims but man doesn't help"
 real 28k

Sunday, 14 January, 2001, 05:23 GMT
Quake wrecks El Salvador
Church at Santa Ana
The shocks destroyed buildings across the country
Rescue efforts have continued into the night following a powerful earthquake which struck parts of Central America on Saturday, killing dozens of people.

Red Cross workers in the worst-hit country, El Salvador, report at least 100 people dead there so far.

Another 200 are said to be injured, and 1,200 have been reported missing in a suburb of the capital, San Salvador, where a landslide buried hundreds of houses.

El Salvador's President, Francisco Flores, has declared a state of emergency. He went on national radio to urge people to remain calm.

The earthquake has destroyed thousands of buildings, blocked roads and cut power across the region.

In Guatemala, two people died when houses collapsed in the town of Halpatagua, near the border with El Salvador.

President Francisco Flores
President Flores has called an emergency
In Mexico, which was also hit, scientists measured the quake at 7.6 on the Richter scale.

There are as yet no reports of casualties from any of the other affected countries, which include Honduras, Costa Rica and Nicaragua.

The quake struck at 1134 local time (1734 GMT). Its epicentre was about 100 kilometres (62 miles) off the Pacific coast of El Salvador.

Hillside collapse

Blocked roads have prevented officials in the capital from reaching some rural areas.

All the hill came down and covered the houses

Local resident
In San Salvador's middle-class suburb of Las Colinas, tons of thick mud slid down from a mountain in the first few seconds of the earthquake, burying as many as 400 homes.

Over a dozen bodies have already been removed from the wreckage.

Volunteers with pickaxes joined the rescuers, but they lacked heavy machinery needed to move large pieces of rubble.

Weeping survivors combed the neighbourhood for loved ones.

"I felt an earthquake and all the hill came down and covered the houses," one local resident told the Associated Press news agency.

"Everything was buried, my entire family is dead," said another.

Damage spread

Residents in San Salvador say the earthquake is the most powerful there since one in 1986, in which 1,500 people died.

Rescue effort in Las Colinas
Hundreds are still missing in Las Colinas
But whereas that earthquake mainly affected the capital, this time round the damage has been spread across the country.

There were reports of a bus buried by a landslide in Tecolouca, east of the capital.

And a centuries-old church collapsed in Santa Ana to its north-west, killing at least one employee and possibly some worshippers inside.

President Flores said that refugee centres had already been set up to deal with evacuees from affected areas.

And there were reports that the US Agency for International Development was preparing a planeload of medicine, blankets and other urgently-needed supplies.

But San Salvador's international airport remained closed preventing the supplies from getting in.

Disaster area

Central America is particularly prone to natural disasters.

It is a region where a series of tectonic plates collide, sending shockwaves in the form of earthquakes.

It is also home to a chain of active volcanoes stretching south from Mexico City to the isthmus of Panama.

Floods are also common: Hurricane Mitch struck here in 1998, killing 9,000 people.

Man-made factors such as intensive farming and deforestation of hillsides have made land prone to slipping.

And dense concentrations of people and poor construction methods all make potential casualties far higher than in less-populated places.

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See also:

14 Jan 01 | Americas
In pictures: Trail of destruction
05 Jun 00 | Sci/Tech
The Earth's Ring of Fire
22 Sep 99 | World
Deadly history of earthquakes
21 Sep 00 | Asia-Pacific
Taiwan remembers quake victims
17 Aug 00 | Europe
Turks remember quake victims
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