WASHINGTON – Managers at many Maryland money-wiring businesses said they have seen transfers to El Salvador jump from hundreds of dollars a day to thousands in the two weeks since a massive earthquake devastated that country.
The individual contributions are part of an outpouring of support from Marylanders, who have donated hundreds of thousands of dollars for relief to the stricken Central American country.
“Within the past two weeks we’ve seen a huge increase,” in money transfers to El Salvador, said Greg McGhee, manager of a Western Union location in Adelphi. He said the money has come “mostly from Hispanics, but a few Americans too.”
On an average day, McGhee’s shop would expect to send $300 to $400 a day to El Salvador, but it has been sending about $8,000 to $10,000 a day since the quake, which claimed more than 700 lives and caused $1.5 billion in damages.
“The number of money transfers from the Washington-area to El Salvador has increased more than 60 percent since the earthquake occurred,” said Wendy Carver-Herbert, a spokeswoman for Western Union.
Several other Maryland money-wiring businesses said they have seen double the number of customers transferring money to El Salvador recently. The Salvadoran embassy said the Washington area has the largest Salvadoran population in this country, after Los Angeles.
Embassy officials said almost 100 of the 262 municipalities in the country were destroyed and four of the country’s 11 hospitals were ruined by the earthquake. The embassy estimates that about 90 percent of the country was affected by the disaster, which left more than 1 million homeless.
In addition to individual contributions, area organizations have seen a tremendous amount of support from the community, said Carmen Dominguez, executive director of the Spanish Catholic Center.
A week after the earthquake, the center and a local radio network set up donation sites around Maryland, Virginia and Washington, D.C. The sites collected about $215,000 in a single day, putting the group well on its way to a goal of collecting $250,000.
“This the most (money) we’ve seen for any foreign relief effort,” other than Hurricane Mitch, which hit El Salvador in 1998, said Dominguez.
About 10 local agencies are working with the center and Casa de Maryland to raise money and to help people here who are trying to contact family members in El Salvador.
“I think there is an outpouring of support,” said Joe Heiney-Gonzalez, of the state Department of Health and Human Services. “Montgomery County’s immigrants are mobilizing.”
Community Ministries of Rockville is calling families in the area to make sure they have been able to contact relatives in El Salvador. And the Red Cross is now setting up telephone stations in El Salvador so that earthquake victims can call relatives here to let them know how they are doing.
The Red Cross reported it has received about $1.3 million in donations nationwide for quake assistance.
Relief organizations are focusing their efforts on monetary donations and are not accepting canned goods or clothing due to the expense of shipping, said Jenny Hogan, director of relief services at the Montgomery County Red Cross.
“The American dollar is so strong down there you can buy double down there what we can here,” Hogan said.