It is now 48 hours after Hurricane Ida passed by Nicaragua and Honduras and managed to dump an enormous amount of rain on El Salvador. We knew that we were going to get some rain but no one had any idea of how much and this is probably why no alerts went out to vulnerable areas. This storm, at the tail end of a very quiet hurricane season, took us all by surprise.
On Saturday night we had driven out to the wedding of a friend’s daughter at their restaurant between Soyapango and Illopango. It had been raining off and on all for most of the day and there was a light drizzle on the way there. When we got there, it was raining very heavily and we debated whether to wait in the car until it had passed but after five minutes, it didn’t seem to be diminishing so we opened our umbrellas and managed to get in without getting too wet. We expected the rain to pass by but it kept raining and raining. People kept arriving and some didn’t have umbrellas and they were soaked from running the short distance from their parked cars. The music was playing quite loudly but I recall hearing the rain come down in some occasionally heavy bursts.
We left early at 11:00 and had to gingerly step to the car through water gushing down the street. MJ was driving since Fatima and I had had several drinks. The rain was continuing to come down very hard cutting down on visibility and when we got to the Carretera Panamericana there was a lot of flooding. MJ was kind of freaked out but Fatima and I have had a lot of experience driving through flooded streets after more than a decade in Havana. Fatima told her to drive down the middle of the road and I told her to keep a lot of space between us and the car in front in case we hit a deep pool and had to gun the engine through. A car can get through pretty deep water as long as the water doesn’t crest over the hood and flood the air intake and as long as you keep revving the engine so the water doesn’t go up the tailpipe.
We were making good progress and most vehicles were driving sensibly (except for the occasional idiot who was speeding and honking and passing cars). On the long hill up towards Soyapango on the opposite side of the highway, there was a lot of water coming down so cars and buses were having problems going upstream. We were heading down so it was a lot easier and no real problems until we hit the Molsa maiz plant. It is on the top of a big hill and there is a big, landscaped retaining wall about 40' high and a lot of it had come down and blocked 2-3 lanes of the road. What looked to be a small drainage pipe in the middle of the wall had become a huge hole and water was gushing through it. We were able to squeeze past the boulders and broken concrete and mounds of dirt to the other side. We drove slowly the rest of the way home and planned our route to stay on high ground. Still, you can’t avoid hills in San Salvador and there were many places where a the runoff turned roads into streams.
San Salvador and El Salvador is a country of volcanoes and valleys. The city itself is in the middle of several volcanoes and people live in the valleys, up the sides of some of the hills, and sometimes on top. Expansion is limited so some communities grow organically or planned developments are established in less than ideal areas. These would be at the bases of earth hills or near some of the streams and rivers that comprise some of the water runoffs in the city.
I think these pictures (from LA PRENSA/Salomón Vásquez) are of the
Rio Lempa that come down from San Vicente to the
Combine this with poor public announcements and tragedies like this will occur. I was watching TV on Saturday night and didn’t see any warnings of flash flooding. Mind you, in some of the poorer communities that were worst affected, they may not have had TV’s to watch.
Rio Lempa (I think) exiting into the Pacific at Costa del Sol
So far, over a hundred people have perished. Most of the deaths occurred in San Salvador and San Vicente which is east of the city. Flash flooding and mudslides took out several towns and communities, affecting both the very poor and very rich. Small huts and large weekend villas were destroyed.
Yesterday, the rains were lighter and the day was calm but for the police helicopters landing and taking off from behind our condo. And today is a beautiful sunny day.
This morning in San Salvador, beautiful and sunny
One of the girls working in our house lives in Illopango which is a municipality around the very large volcanic lake. Luckily she is on higher ground, like most people, and wasn’t affected except for a leaky roof. She did say that the rains flood the hills and it all pours into the lake and then the drainage stream floods out but the people living nearby know that is going to happen so they take precautions.
Those less fortunate had their houses flooded or swept away. In the ultimate definition of losing "everything", some people not only lost their homes but the land beneath them. What do you do when the pretty little stream near your house turns into a raging river that takes away your house and everything you own and when you get back, there isn’t even any land to rebuild on? Well, you get a bit of help and get on with it.
The definition of losing "everything"
I have had some great responses from my Good Smoke Bad Smoke mini-campaign. Some people with the American Legion (who will be out in full force for the Veteran’s Day celebration in El Salvador this week) are interested in the idea and may get involved. So please send those funds to me and I’ll go out and buy a bunch of stoves and we’ll get them out to some of the affected areas.
On a final note, don't think that El Salvador is a disaster ridden third world country. Sure we have the occasional natural disaster (hurricanes and earthquakes) but this is a beautiful country full of resilient people. I hope no one is dissuaded from visiting this amazing country. So far I have Elliot, Rene, Nancy, Nad, Deb, Jeff and family coming down this winter. I hope everyone else thinking about it will come down too.