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Aftershocks of a Faraway Quake : Inglewood Salvadorans Share the Terror of Not Knowing

October 16, 1986|HECTOR GUTIERREZ | Times Staff Writer

INGLEWOOD — The petite Salvadoran woman opened the door of her apartment, her eyes watery and her voice trembling. No, she said, there was no tragedy in the family, not yet.

But like many natives of El Salvador who now live in Inglewood, Maria Teresa Alvarez de Merino, 64, said she has been emotionally devastated by uncertainty about the fate of her relatives after the massive earthquake that has killed nearly 1,200 people in the capital city of San Salvador.

"There is nothing we can do as of right now. I don't know what we're going to do," said Alvarez de Merino. "I don't know if my family is alive, dead or hurt."

Her husband and most of her 10 grown children work near the commercial areas of the capital where damage was heaviest. The earthquake, which struck Friday morning, measured 5.4 on the Richter scale.

Fears More Deaths

Alvarez de Merino, who has been in the United States for three years and lives with a daughter and three grandchildren, said dreadful thoughts enter her mind when she hears news accounts saying that countless more people could be found injured or dead beneath the rubble. The earthquake has knocked out telephone communications in the capital, and she is learning whatever she can via Spanish-language television.

"I've been watching the news and that only gives us numbers and no names," she said in Spanish.

Residents and city officials said that hundreds of Salvadorans and other Central Americans live in Inglewood and Lennox. In the crowded apartment complexes along Century Boulevard between Prairie and Yukon avenues where many of them live, concern for family members back home was pervasive this week.

Some seemed eager to talk about their relatives; others answered the door warily, as if dreading bad news.

No News

Eighty-two-year-old Salvadoran immigrant Petronilo Velasquez, who lives with his wife and son, said he has heard nothing about his brother, two nieces and scores of nephews who live near San Salvador.

"I want to know what happened to my family," Velasquez said in frustration. "We haven't been able to communicate, and I turn on the television to see what's happening."

Josefina Fuentes, 45, said she has five sons living just outside San Salvador and, although she also has not been able to get through to her children, she believes that all of them are well because they do not commute to downtown San Salvador for work.

But, Fuentes said, "nunca sabes"-- you never know.

She echoed the feelings of El Salvador's communications minister, Julio Rey Prendes, who said the country was already racked by civil war before the disaster.

'War and Now This'

"There were already a lot of problems going on before the earthquake," Fuentes said, her arms folded and her hands twitching. "There's the war and now this. I don't know how the people are going to recover. I hope to God they will."

But the news has not been all bad.

Jose Antonio Rodriguez, 32, said that a brother was able to call his relatives in Los Angeles from outside San Salvador and let them know that everyone is fine except for a younger brother and two nephews who suffered minor injuries when a beam fell on them.

"We're having a reunion on Friday with our relatives here to find a way in which we can help our people. But just thank God that no one in my family got hurt too badly," said Rodriguez, who migrated to this country nine years ago and is a maintenance worker at one of the apartment buildings.

Norman Y. Cravens, Inglewood's deputy city manager, said the city does not know how many Salvadorans or other Central Americans live in the city, but he said a steady rise in immigration from Central America has been evident in recent years. Inglewood's population is about 20% Latino, he said.

More Immigrants

"Everybody here who knows something about it knows that there are a lot of people from Central American countries," Cravens said. "It's my impression that it (immigration from Central America) has been much heavier in the last few years."

John Pacheco, Inglewood Red Cross coordinator, said Salvadorans living in the South Bay and others interested in aiding in relief efforts are being directed to the downtown Los Angeles office of the Red Cross.

Pacheco said that for some Salvadorans in the area, it is the second tragedy in two months. A fire in August destroyed a two-story building on Century Boulevard that housed many Central Americans, leaving 100 people homeless and 25 injured.

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