Salvador's Shantytowns Bear Brunt of Rebel Offensive - and Nation's Disasters

AFTER waiting out the warfare for four days in a refugee center in the affluent neighborhood of Escal'on, Emilio Antonio Garc'ia returned Saturday to the shantytown he called home. ``There were only ashes and melted pieces of metal siding,'' says the lottery vendor, lamenting the aerial bombing that finally ended the intense fighting in the Zacamil area - and destroyed his home. ``We don't have anywhere to live now.''

For the time being, Mr. Garc'ia, his wife, and their two children will live with 380 other displaced people in the Sacred Heart Catholic girls' school. An estimated 30,000 refugees from last week's fighting - most of them destitute - are now scattered around town in relatives' homes and 30 refugee centers operated by the government and various church organizations.

It is not the first time the poor have borne the brunt of the nation's disasters. Tens of thousands of rural Salvadorans pushed out by the war have filled the shanty towns encircling the capital.

In 1986, the Garc'ias' hut, perched on the edge of a downtown ravine, tumbled to the bottom during an earthquake. Now, after rebels launched their offensive last week from the capital's poorest barrios, the family is once again on the move.

Garc'ia's wife, who braved the fighting three extra days in a futile attempt to save their wood-slat home, is now wandering Escal'on's peaceful, tree-lined streets, ringing doorbells in hopes that wealthy Salvadorans will donate clothes.

Garc'ia himself is worried about two things: money and his mother. His stashed away savings went up in flames during the bombing, leaving him with nothing. Even if they are allowed to return to their land, it will cost $150 to rebuild his house.

More pressing, however, is the search for his mother, ``I still don't know whether she is alive,'' Garc'ia says. On Saturday, he tried to find her, but was denied access to her community, due to continued fighting.

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