Thursday, October 13, 2011

Flooding in El Salvador

So the big news here is Tropical Depression 12-E.   It is bringing killer rains to just about all of Central America.  What it means where I am is that it has poured rain for 2 days and we are into day 3.   Before I continue, let me assure you that I and the people in my life here are safe…although a bit damp.   What is happening here reminds me of what my sister went through almost annually living in rural Nova Scotia.  This is the end of rainy season so creeks, rivers and drainage ditches are already full.  This additional rain is over- taxing an already stressed system.  The worst flooding is in areas where rivers have overflowed and at the moment nearly 1800 people have been evacuated.  What is new to me is the imminent risk of landslides.  A 19 year old girl was killed when a landslide caused the wall of her house to collapse on her while she was sleeping.  This occurred in an urban area of San Salvador!  There have been 7 or 8 other flood related deaths in El Salvador.  There have been more in Guatemala and Nicaragua.  A few weeks ago I shared with you in my blog about a large tree at ADES (my agency) that had fallen over because so much of the dirt holding its roots had been washed away with the rain.  This is happening all over the country.  Also the rain has saturated many of the dirt cliffs and at some points the land just gives way.  I have seen the results of small landslides here as they are frequent during the rainy season.   A staggering amount of this country erodes every year. I am sorry that I don’t have the exact figure.  I didn’t write fast enough at a workshop a few months ago, but trust me, it is huge!

There is an emergency preparedness system with 4 levels – green, yellow, orange and red.  Yesterday the people who decide these things placed the entire country on alert level “orange”.  Yesterday when we went to "orange" schools in 8 of the 14 departments (Provinces) closed.   This was my first school closing for rain! There is one area in a part of the country, far from me, that are “red”.  In general travel is more treacherous with the rain, particularly in rural areas.  Unless you are staying on main roads, authorities are suggesting that you stay home.  As a result, Jenny and I came from San Salvador to Guacotecti on the bus this morning.  There were empty seats for most of the ride – which just never occurs.  In addition to the areas that are flooded and the localized flooding in people’s homes (I am sure that there are houses in both San Salvador and Guaco that have a lot of water in them)…there is a huge economic impact because of this weather system.  For example, a number of people can’t work today because of the rain.  This means that they won’t be generating any income for their families.  It means that people like the bus operators will make a lot less money today as people are staying put. . Also, crops are being destroyed by both the levels of water and landslides.   One of the main entry points to Guatemala is closed as it requires crossing a bridge that is now closed due the incredibly high water level.   The economic spin-offs continue to multiply.

El Salvador is the country in the world deemed most vulnerable to climate change.  This seems incredible to me, but even if they aren’t number 1, it is still a huge problem here.  Clearly there are huge issues managing rainwater.  In general there is not a sufficient infrastructure to move large quantities of water (sewers, drainage ditches etc) , buildings are not constructed to be waterproof and often they don’t direct the rain away from the building.  One of the biggest problems is that in the early 1900’s the large landholders in El Salvador cut down all the jungle in order to increase the cultivation of coffee.  As a result there is a significantly reduced ability of the land to absorb rain.  I am still shocked that 2 days of steady but not torrential rain can cause the kind of problems that are happening here. 

Tropical depression 12 E is expected to continue bringing rain today and then hopefully will move off tomorrow.  As far as I can tell, there is almost no English language coverage of this situation.  I found a small article by the BBC.  However, it is already out-dated, so I didn’t attach it.  Interestingly, I have also received my first e-mail from the Canadian Government.   It is good to know that I am indeed on their list of Canadians in El Salvador!  Our government is advising me to stay out of the alert level “red” area.  At this point, no further action is being recommended.  To my friends who asked, no it does not seem like I will be being evacuated to Canada any time soon!

1 comment:

  1. Hi Lynn. The Ex Pat community (or at least 2 of us here) thanks you for covering storm 12E. And welcome to El Salvador, by the way, albeit several months late. You just came up in my google search for "flooding in El Salvador". Congratulations on being one of the primary English-speaking news agencies covering the storm in El Salvador!!