Earthquake traps students in El Salvador

By the

January 18, 2001

Six Georgetown students on a mission retreat in El Salvador were forced to evacuate the country by bus due to an earthquake which devestated El Salvador and surrouding areas on Jan. 13. None of the students was injured.

The earthquake measured between 7.1 and 7.9 on the Richter scale and lasted 46 seconds. It reached a 7.6 rating around the airport where the Georgetown group awaited their departing flight.

The group arrived at the San Salvador airport at 10:00 a.m. on Jan. 13 to return to the United States, according to Brian Raimondo (SFS ‘01), one of the students on the trip. The earthquake struck while the students were waiting for their flight.

“At first we thought it was just the airport shaking from an airplane taking off,”Raimondo said.

“We thought that a plane crashed into the airport,”Carley Graham said (CAS’01), another student on the trip. “There were electrical cords everywhere … glass breaking,” said Graham.

Raimondo described the earthquake as “the longest 45 seconds of my life.”

The earthquake caused a landslide that buried hundreds of houses near El Salvador’s capital and killed at least 682 people across the region, according to the Washington post and thousands are still missing.

Salvadoran President Francisco Flores declared a national emergency and asked for international aid to help look for buried victims and assist survivors.

According to the students, when the earthquake ended, the airport was severely damaged. The roof had caved in, the tower had collapsed and the main corridor was destroyed. All flights from the airport were subsequently canceled.

The students had been waiting outside the airport for about an hour trying to assess whether airport service would resume when they started seeking transportation away from the airport. They asked an American bypasser who was staying at the Marriot in San Salvador, for the phone number of the American embassy.

The American was on the road in a Marriot van with a bus driver during the earthquake. The driver offered to drive the students to the Marriot Hotel to obtain assistance.

The hotel employees were able to contact a bus service to take the students to the nearest airport, located in Guatemala City. The students arrived at Georgetown in time for the start of the semester.

The students traveled to San Carlos Lempa, El Salvador on a Campus Ministry-sponsored mission retreat. The Georgetown University Dalghren Chapel Collection funds El Cuenco, a non-profit organization that sponsors nutrition, scholarship, medical and sewing programs in San Carlos Lempa.

The students volunteered at the San Carlos Lempa worksite in El Salvador and at a medical clinic. During their almost two-week stay, the students helped to feed up to 70 children a night. The Georgetown group also joined with Catholic Relief Services, which is also funded by the Dalghren Chapel Collection to provide disaster relief in parts of the country that had been struck before the quake.

The group was led by Barbara Humphrey McCrab, a Campus ministry official.

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