Page last updated at 16:01 GMT, Monday, 9 November 2009

Desperate search in El Salvador


People in El Salvador try to salvage their belongings

Soldiers and civilians in the small Salvadorean town of Verapaz have been frantically searching debris left by a landslide for missing people.

A torrent of mud and boulders from the Chichontepec volcano hit the town near the capital, San Salvador, on Sunday, wrecking 300 homes and burying cars.

Bodies covered in mud-caked sheets are being collected at a local chapel.

Officially the death toll across El Salvador after days of heavy rainstorms stands at at least 130 people.

All I could do was tell my wife to grab the kids and flee
Arnoldo Paz
Verapaz resident

President Mauricio Funes declared a national emergency, describing the damage as "incalculable".

"Today is a very sad day for the country and its government, in fact it is one of the most tragic days in memory," he said in a televised address to the nation on Sunday.

The BBC's weather centre says the disastrous rains were mainly caused by a low pressure system in the Pacific, which was linked indirectly to Hurricane Ida.

Ida, which passed the country three days ago, was downgraded to a tropical storm as it crossed the Gulf of Mexico on Monday.

Warnings were lifted for the US coastline between Louisiana and Florida.

'A huge wave'

The areas around El Salvador's capital and the central province of San Vicente were hit hardest.

We were able to see full trees floating by to the ocean
Jaymes Kine, Playa El Tunco, El Salvador

In the town of Verapaz in San Vicente, soldiers, emergency workers and relatives resumed a search for the missing at dawn on Monday as military helicopters ferried in food for the searchers.

Rescuers had dug into the night - some with their bare hands - to find survivors in the town about 50km (30 miles) outside San Salvador, as a persistent drizzle fell.

"All we heard in the morning was loud noise," Verapaz resident Arnoldo Paz told AFP news agency.

"It was a torrent of water and mud that swept away everything in its path. All I could do was tell my wife to grab the kids and flee."

Mr Paz said his house had been swept away by the current.

Another survivor, Cruz Ayala, described the landslide as "something black, like a huge wave, a huge noise".

El Salvador map, showing flood-hit areas and path of Hurricane Ida

"I heard screams of people asking for help," she said.

She survived by climbing on to the roof of a neighbour's house but one of her nieces, aged 14, was missing.

The Associated Press earlier quoted Red Cross spokesman Carlos Lopez Mendoza as saying 60 people in the town were missing.

The official death toll was not broken down by location.

About 7,000 people are living in shelters as a result of the disaster and large parts of the country are without electricity or clean water and remain cut off from government aid.

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