In a recently published investigation, La Prensa Grafica reports that the Salvadoran government has done little to prepare to evacuate the 12,700 people who live beside the Ilamatepec (Santa Ana) volcano:
15 days ago, the authorities of the National Service for Earth Studies (SNET) talked for the first time that the volcano had the conditions for suffering an eruption. To this date, however, a plan of evacuation, that includes routes, systems of communication and means of transportation, is little more than ideas. For example, there are not inventories of evacuation vehicles, some of the escape roads are impassable, and the population doesn't know what would be the most expeditious escape route.
When asked about evacuation plans, a government official told La Prensa that authorities were putting the final touches on a plan and that completion would be easy. When asked to see the list of evacuation vehicles, he produced a list of 14 pick ups. According to La Prensa, that would be 907 citizens per pick up, crowded even by Salvadoran standards.
Evacuation may require local campesinos to walk an hour or more to evacuation points. Roads in the area of the volcano are in poor condition, and often impassable in rainy conditions. There is not a good communication system in place to get the word out to rural areas, in the event of a threatened eruption. Campesinos interviewed by the paper indicate that no one had advised them where they were supposed to go if there was an evacuation.
The reports about the recent activity at the volcano do not suggest an imminent eruption. Hopefully evacuation plans will never be acted upon. But the recent experience of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans suggests what happens when a government does not plan a coordinated response to a natural disaster. Let's hope the La Prensa report leads the government to improve its planning.