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Friday, 16 February, 2001, 16:13 GMT
Aid from space
Privateers NV Earthquake destruction in San Salvador, January 2001
Satellites show the 'before' and 'after' [Privateers NV]
By BBC News Online's Ivan Noble

Fresh satellite data is being sent to rescue workers in El Salvador to help them find passable roads amid areas of destruction as they search for survivors from Tuesday's earthquake.

The European Space Agency (ESA) and the French space agency CNES are processing data from Earth observation satellites to use in the relief effort.

"We hope that the first images will be in El Salvador by Saturday morning," ESA's Jérôme Béquignon told BBC News Online.

The work follows a similar operation after last month's earthquake in Central America.


We hope the first images will be there on Saturday morning

Jérôme Béquignon
ESA
Then, French civil protection teams worked under Salvadorean coordination.

"They were obviously very interested in the data because these were very new data. They wanted to update their maps," Mr Béquignon explained.

The space agencies use private contractors to process satellite data.

Dr Paul Romeijn of Privateers NV, The Netherlands, handled the satellite images from January's quake. "We overlay images taken from different angles and compare them - looking for smooth areas where there used to be rough ones," he told BBC News Online.

"We were able to do it very fast once we had the images."

Pressure of time

However, rerouting satellite flight paths and coordinating agency efforts can use up valuable time.

"If a full night is lost, it's a long time if you are lying under rubble or mud," Dr Romeijn said.


A full night is a long time if you're lying under rubble or mud

Dr Paul Romeijn
Privateers NV

French teams working in January's quake only had slow-speed internet access, so Dr Romeijn's team had to think carefully how to get the maps to them.

"We cut the images up into 10 km by 10 km squares so that they would not take too long to download and then we put them on an FTP server," he said.

"But there was feedback as well. By 'phone and by internet the rescue workers contacted us and said: 'Tomorrow we're going there. Can you tell us what's happening?'"

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