SAN SALVADOR — Secretary of State George P. Shultz said Thursday that $50 million in emergency aid approved by Congress to help El Salvador's earthquake victims is "a down payment" and pledged that further U.S. assistance will be forthcoming.
Standing in his shirt-sleeves next to the ruined Ruben Dario building, the site of continuing rescue work, Shultz said the victims of last Friday's devastating earthquake still need temporary shelters, food and medicine.
"We are here to see what is needed and to help provide it," Shultz said. "Some is here, more is coming. It will be provided."
At least 976 people died in the earthquake that registered 5.4 on the Richter scale, and officials estimate that 31,000 families--most of them poor--have been left homeless. In addition to the thousands of houses that collapsed during the quake, scores of hospitals, schools and government and commercial buildings have been destroyed.
Embassy to Be Rebuilt
Shultz also toured the U.S. Embassy's main building, which was severely damaged and has been evacuated because it is considered unusable. He said a new chancery will be built.
President Jose Napoleon Duarte, who accompanied Shultz to the hard-hit downtown area, has estimated total damage from the earthquake at $2 billion. Shultz said that once assessments have been made of the damage and the cost of reconstruction, "we'll make a recommendation to Congress" about El Salvador's needs.
The United States already provides about $500 million annually in military and economic aid to El Salvador and keeps 55 military advisers stationed here to help run a counterinsurgency campaign against leftist guerrillas.
$50 Million Added
On Wednesday, Congress approved $50 million for earthquake assistance.
Asked if the United States will eventually contribute more, Shultz said: "Of course. Fifty million is not going to do it. The estimates (of damage) that I hear run from $600 million to $2 billion."
"It's going to be large, and it's going to be beyond the capacity of the economy of El Salvador to do by itself."
Saying the aid should be offered as grants, not loans, he added, "El Salvador doesn't need a lot more debt."
The country's economic crisis, deepened by the earthquake, is acute. During a half-hour meeting with Shultz at the damaged Presidential House, Duarte asserted that the Salvadoran government has only $350,000 cash in the bank.
Shultz was accompanied on his four-hour trip by Elliott Abrams, assistant secretary of state for inter-American affairs, M. Peter McPherson, administrator of the Agency for International Development, California Rep. Bobbi Fiedler (R-Northridge) and others.
Duarte, Shultz and the secretary's entourage raised clouds of dust as they walked through the ruins of the impoverished Candelaria residential neighborhood.
Woman Appeals for Help
"Mr. President, we need help," cried out Marta Isabel Gomez, a housewife who carried a plastic tub to collect water.
Duarte said he would ask the army about the problem, but then gently scolded Gomez: "You must have more patience."
The press conference by Shultz and Duarte at the Ruben Dario building was given against a backdrop of workmen clearing the rubble and the roar of jackhammers. Around the corner, volunteers fed lunch to the rescue workers who still are searching for survivors in half of the building.
This was the first time high-ranking U.S. and Salvadoran officials have appeared together since the controversy arose over the use of Ilopango air base on the outskirts of the capital to supply U.S.-backed rebels, called contras, in Nicaragua. A Cuban-American former CIA agent, Felix Rodriguez, allegedly ran the operation.
Publicly, Vice President George Bush has said that Rodriguez worked for the Salvadoran armed forces, but Gen. Adolfo Blandon, head of the joint chiefs of staff, has denied that any foreigners other than the official U.S. advisers work for the military.
Contra Questions Sidestepped
Shultz and Duarte sidestepped questions about the contras operation Thursday. Shultz repeated government assertions that Rodriguez did not work for the United States, adding: "We see that there are Americans in Nicaragua helping Communists. I am very glad to say that there are Americans who want to help people in Nicaragua who are fighting for freedom and democracy and independence. We certainly salute those people."
Privately, Salvadoran officials have admitted that Americans work out of Ilopango to supply the contras, and sources have said that U.S. Ambassador Edwin G. Corr met once with Rodriguez over lunch here.
The Reagan Administration has said Rodriguez was acting as a private citizen, with no connection to the U.S. government, to supply arms and ammunition to U.S.-backed rebels.
A senior Administration official on Thursday said that the U.S. government may stop encouraging such private efforts soon, when the contras receive $100 million in military aid and come under the direct leadership of the CIA.
"Just as we have been encouraging private efforts, I think we would now begin discouraging them. It would complicate our efforts to have their planes falling down while ours are out there," said the official, who asked not to be identified.
On the way to El Salvador on Thursday, Shultz praised Duarte's handling of the crisis caused by the earthquake, but homeless residents of the capital have complained that distribution is disorganized and that they are not receiving enough.