At least 10,000 Salvadorans are in urgent need of food aid after floods and mudslides destroyed huge swaths of crops during harvest season, the U.N. World Food Program said Tuesday.
President Mauricio Funes told reporters the death toll had risen to at least 160, but lowered the number of homeless to 12,930. Dozens of people remained missing.
Heavy rains caused a dozen rivers to jump their banks and sent torrents of mud and boulders tumbling down mountainsides across the Central American country over the weekend, burying entire neighborhoods.
Rescue workers used heavy machinery to dig through the rubble Tuesday, while survivors tried to unearth their belongings with any equipment they could get their hands on.
The WFP is helping feed 500 people in shelters in San Vicente, one of the worst-hit provinces, the U.N. agency said in a statement. But it said thousands more would need help in the coming days.
"Severe flooding washed away entire harvests, homes and livelihoods," said Dorte Ellehammer, WFP representative in El Salvador. "This disaster has compromised the food security of thousands of people."
The WFP said 90 tons of high-energy biscuits will be ready for distribution in two days, a supply that can feed 70,000 people for four days. Another 1,000 tons of food is also available in the country.
In Verapaz, a farming town on the slopes of the Chichontepec volcano, many residents lost their sugar and coffee crops. Cornelio Lobato said his family returned to their ruined home to find that only their rooster, Pipo, had survived by flying up a mango tree.
"We have nothing, no money, nothing. But we're not going to eat Pipo. He is the only thing we have left, and we are going to take care of him until he dies," he said.
The Salvadoran government is still evaluating the extent of damage to beans, corn and other crops. The WFP said it was difficult to assess the situation because road and bridge collapses left many communities reachable only by helicopter.
But just in the town of San Agustin, north of the capital, the mayor estimated that 90 percent of crops were lost, said Gersande Chavez, director of Save The Children in El Salvador, who distributed food and water to disaster areas Tuesday.
About 250 families were in shelters in San Agustin, Chavez said. They had received food but were in need of mosquito nets, toothpaste, soap and other supplies.
Chavez said many people who lost homes and crops may have so far gone unnoticed because they are staying with neighbors instead of in shelters.
On her way to San Agustin, Chavez said, people standing by the roadside frantically pointed down a ravine where the homes and crops of six families had been erased by mud. Everyone survived, but no help had arrived.
"They just wanted to be part of the census," she said, adding that she told the mayor about the families.
"People were about to harvest their corn," Chavez said. "All that is washed away for some families, and that is a huge concern. They will have to wait six months to have crops again."
Associated Press Writer Alexandra Olson in Mexico City contributed to this story.