Salvadorans in Tahoe wait word from quake zone |

Salvadorans in Tahoe wait word from quake zone

After a 7.6-magnitude earthquake killed hundreds of people Saturday, Miguel Ponce, 33, of South Lake Tahoe, was relieved to hear his family in El Salvador is OK.

The day a friend told Ponce about the temblor, he immediately called to leave a message for his mother.

His first thought?

“How’s my family?” Ponce said.

His mother returned the call with good news: His relatives, friends and acquaintances survived the quake.

There was one casualty, however.

“My brother’s house was nearly destroyed,” he said.

At age 20, Ponce left the village of La Reina in the once war-torn El Salvador for the land of opportunity in the United States.

“Thank God I’m here,” he said.

Relatives and friends were desperately digging in the rubble Monday to find survivors.

Natural disasters can happen anywhere and just as unexpectedly as the one in El Salvador. Humans can’t control Mother Nature but they can prepare for her occasional destructive outbursts.

A Federal Emergency Management Agency representative and local committee would like to remind Lake Tahoe residents that a community’s survival and recovery may rest with its own citizens.

With the help of FEMA, the South Shore collective is developing a disaster preparedness plan called “Project Impact: Building Disaster Resistant Communities.”

But how do the authorities succeed in alerting their community without causing a panic?

“It’s a balance. You need to prepare, but you don’t want to scare people,” FEMA spokeswoman Cynthia Ramsay Taylor said, coming out of a weather conference held at Embassy Suites Lake Tahoe last week. “You can’t prevent the weather, but you can prevent the damage.”

And more often than not, the economic survival of an entire community may be in jeopardy.

“When disaster happens, 30 percent of small businesses don’t reopen. So this is real important to your community,” she said.

Taylor addressed the crowd of meteorologists and weathercasters, with a plea for community partners for Project Impact, a Fema-initiated project. Project Impact involves creating a town-by-town action plan across the nation that outlines what people should do and where they should go in the event of a natural disaster.

As part of Project Impact, FEMA will fund the necessary elements needed to put into place individual community plans for disaster preparation.

For example, FEMA is urging communities to set up more safe houses to care for residents who may be trapped as a result of a rock slide or who may be insecure about going home after a major earthquake. Either of these can happen in the Sierra Nevada, geologists warn.

Lake Tahoe has signed on for FEMA funds as one in 250 communities that intend to wage a plan of attack on disasters such as these. The goal is 1,000 communities by the end of the year, Taylor said.

After some members of the Tahoe-Douglas Chamber of Commerce and other local representatives returned from the nation’s capital where they had attended Project Impact’s introductory conference, a committee was formed to find community partners, panel member Diane Means Imbach said Monday.

This collective of business and civic members will meet at 4 p.m. Jan. 31 at the Minden Inn, where they’re planning to make a list of possible candidates to approach as community partners.

These partners may donate time, money or materials for the community action plan. They’re also expected to assess the community’s risks and hold town hall meetings to prioritize what types of disasters would likely occur here.

“The true spirit of Project Impact is to ask the community (what it thinks),” Imbach said. “We might be surprised by what the community wants (to focus on.)”

At the outset, the committee would like to pick a local residence to turn into an exemplary model of how to prepare a home for disaster.

– Relief workers with the International Red Cross are asking for cash donations, not clothing, to benefit the victims of the El Salvador earthquake. To make a donation call 800-HELPNOW. In Spanish, call 800-257-7575.

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