El Salvador declares emergency
Rescuers search for survivors after heavy flooding as hurricane heads towards US.
Last Modified: 09 Nov 2009 22:06 GMT

The storm triggered massive floods and
mudslides in El Salvador [EPA]

Mauricio Funes, the president of El Salvador, has declared a national emergency in the country after days of heavy rains and flooding left at least 130 people dead in the passage of Hurricane Ida.

Funes on Monday described the disaster as "a tragedy" and said the damage sustained by his country was "incalculable".

His comments came as rescue workers continued the search for dozens of people missing in a mudslide in Verapaz, a town about 50 km from San Salavador.

Soldiers, emergency workers and residents in the town dug through the rubble and debris for survivors, in a search complicated by impassable roads and collapsed bridges.

Matias Mendoza, 26, a resident of Varapaz, said: "It was about two in the morning when the rain started coming down harder, and the earth started shaking ... I warned my wife and grabbed my son, and all of a sudden we heard a sound.

"The next thing I knew I was lying among parts of the walls of my house.

"A few minutes later, I found my wife and my son in the middle of the rubble, and, thank God, we're alive."

Humbero Centeno, El Salvador's interior minister, said 130 people were confirmed dead across the country in floodings and the mudslide, and that 13,680 were homeless.

'Real tragedy'

The rescue efforts came two days after Hurricane Ida battered the central American nation, pushing a heavy rain system ahead of it.

Weather forecasters downgraded Ida to a tropical storm on Monday as its winds weakened slightly from 140kph to 110kph.

But the storm left a path of destruction in its wake, destroying homes and forcing thousands of people to relocate in Mexico, Nicaragua and El Salvador.

Humberto Centeno, El Salvador's interior minister, said on Monday that the death toll was likely to rise since dozens of people were still missing.

"There are 60 people missing in just the province of San Vicente ... we have been through disaster zones, including a fly-over of Verapaz [in San Vicente], it is a real tragedy there."

The rains unleashed rock slides from the Chichontepec volcano that buried several houses, the mayor, Antonio Cerritos, told Radio Nacional.

But the capital city San Salvador was hit hardest, with 61 people reported dead after mudslides buried homes, according to the Red Cross.

Overflowing rivers

Marcela Mayen, a journalist with Channel 6 El Salvador, told Al Jazeera: "The problem here is that there are many rivers across the whole country and these rivers are just overflowing affecting all those who live alongside them.

  Heavy rains began falling on El Salvador on Saturday as Ida moved through the area [AFP]
"The impact has been felt in about 60 per cent of the country."

Heavy rains began falling on El Salvador on Saturday night as the storm moved through the area, causing rivers to burst their banks and mudslides in the hilly interior to bury homes and roads.

Ida was expected to hit the US Gulf Coast early on Tuesday, the US National Hurricane Centre said.

The Louisiana Offshore Oil Port, the only terminal in the United States capable of handling the largest tankers, said it would stop unloading ships due to stormy seas.

A quarter of US oil and 15 per cent of its natural gas are produced from fields in the Gulf and the coast is home to 40 per cent of the nation's refining capacity.

Al Jazeera and agencies
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