Nine dead, 35 missing in El Salvador mudslide

Nejapa (El Salvador) (AFP) –


Nine people were killed and 35 were missing Friday after heavy rain in El Salvador triggered a devastating mudslide near the capital San Salvador, officials said.

"It is a tragedy," said Interior Minister Mario Duran, adding that nine bodies had been recovered from the path of the mudslide, which covered four kilometers (2.5 miles).

There was "a tremendous rainfall in the night," he said. "It is impressive to have 133 mm (five inches) of water, and it generated a landslide" that hit 135 houses, and 35 people were still listed as missing.

Some 300 firefighters, police and military personnel were involved in the search for the missing, the interior ministry said.

"Our search teams are scouring an area of four kilometers," said Duran.

Defense Minister Rene Francis Merino said a team of Army search and rescue dogs had been deployed to the scene.

The torrent of water, mud and huge boulders smashed through the main highway linking the capital to the north of the country until it reached a ravine that crosses the center of Nejapa, a city of 30,000 inhabitants.

It damaged dozens of homes in Nejapa, some 15 kilometers north of the capital, and killed at least two people there, officials said.

"I felt the house shaking and shaking, I managed to run and I told my family 'Get out,'" said Miguel Angel Erroa, a 61-year-old farmer.

"I couldn't do anything. My wife and a son of mine named Vladimir are dead, they can't find him, and I have a son in the hospital," Erroa said through tears.

At his side stood his son Samuel, one of the survivors of the landslide.

"It was fast. I was able to rescue my two children, but we couldn't do anything for my brother and my mother," he said.

The mayor of the town, Adolfo Barrios, said the tragedy should prompt a "profound review of the entire development model" being used in the country.

Around 30 people who sought shelter in a church were evacuated from the disaster zone.

In 1982, a landslide on the upper slopes of the same volcano destroyed 160 houses in the town of Montebello, killing more than 300 people.