SAN SALVADOR, El Salvador (CNS) -- To many, it seemed like a pointless search. But to Saul Corado, still looking for the remains of his 9-year-old son Carlos amid the mud and rubble of what was once ``Las Colinas'' housing estate, there was no giving up.
``We still haven't found his little body. Other people have been luckier and have given their (loved ones) a Christian burial, but we can't yet, we'll just keep on looking,'' Corado said sadly, picking through the debris of one of the 400 houses destroyed by a giant mudslide set off by the Jan. 13 earthquake.
Survivors told Corado that they had seen his son run as the ground began to shake. Corado said his son had been alone at the family home, watching TV, at the time.
``There was nothing left of my house, it disappeared, all of it, just like that. It was as if someone had picked up a broom and brushed it away,'' he said, watching as giant bulldozers methodically raked through the remains of what was once a lively middle-class neighborhood.
More than two weeks after El Salvador's worst natural disaster in two decades, the earthquake survivors were slowly coming to terms with their losses. More than 700 people were dead and another 500 remained missing.
``We are a people used to suffering,'' Bishop Rodrigo Cabrera Cuellar of Santiago de Maria told Catholic News Service. ``But we also refuse to be knocked down.''
The search for more victims would continue, he said.
``The last thing that one loses is hope of finding a body. It's a small consolation for the grieving relatives,'' said Bishop Cabrera.
But the main priority has become attending to the living, he added.
More than 1 million people, almost one-sixth of El Salvador's population, were affected by the 7.6-magnitude quake. Its epicenter was in the Pacific Ocean, but the quake was felt as far away as Mexico City. Almost 200,000 families lost their homes. The government estimated that the bill for the damage could total around $1.5 billion.
Bishop Cabrera said that in his diocese, an important coffee-growing region in the eastern province of Usulutan, more than 30,000 people were left homeless by the quake. Most of them were poor laborers from the plantations, whose housing of mud and sticks did not stand up to the quake.
Many now live outside, without proper shelter, and need aid, said Bishop Cabrera.
``What this tragedy has done is make poor people even poorer,'' he said.
``The government's help to us has been minimal. It has been the church that has given the people food to eat,'' he said. ``What has been really impressive has been the solidarity shown by other parishes'' in El Salvador and abroad.
During a brief visit to the devastated area in late January, Bishop John H. Ricard, president and chairman of the board of Catholic Relief Services, the U.S. bishops' international relief and development agency, said: ``We will accompany the (Salvadoran) church along the road to reconstruction, developing a joint plan of action so that we cannot just rebuild houses, but also the lives of people.''
In a Jan. 28 statement, Bishop Ricard said: ``We wish to express our admiration for the strength, the will to live and the ability shown by the Salvadorans to respond in the face of this tragedy. We are committed to supporting the Salvadoran church in the needs that arise.''
CRS and other international church agencies have sent funds to El Salvador to help with relief efforts.