Local Guatemalan and Salvadoran businesses have raised more than $160,000 for victims of recent flooding and mudslides in Central America that have killed more than 700 people and left hundreds of thousands homeless.
Washington area branches of the U.S. Salvadoran Chamber of Commerce and the U.S.-Guatemala Chamber of Commerce will deliver $101,370 to nonprofit groups in El Salvador and $64,197 to those in Guatemala next week, community leaders said.
The money was raised during radio fundraisers over the past two weekends using airtime donated by Mega Communications Inc., a Spanish-language radio company that owns La Mega 94.3/92.7-FM and Radio Capital 730-AM.
Central American immigrants routinely hold such fundraisers to benefit their home countries after natural disasters.
They have become more common as the number of immigrants in the region has soared and organizations have sprouted to disseminate information, plan programming and help immigrants find ways to give.
"We are an underdeveloped country, and we need assistance to be self-sustained," said Marco Sanchez, president of the District-based U.S.-Guatemala Chamber of Commerce, which has more than 100 members. "In these catastrophes, the people that are most affected are the poor. We are here in the U.S., and we are a little better off [so] it is very important that we be part of the reconstruction."
Luis Felipe Romero, president of United Salvadoran Communities of the Washington, D.C., Metropolitan Area, said the radio fundraisers "brought on an outpouring of support from immigrants who want to help their brothers and sisters." The money was collected at sites throughout the District and its suburbs and will help rural families who do not receive money from relatives living in the United States, he said.
Guatemala was the Central American country most affected by recent storms, but less money was raised for it because the immigrant community here is smaller. Mudslides covered entire villages where the poor lived in adobe and tin homes on mountainsides, and in some places, floodwaters knocked out bridges and destroyed roads, cutting off communities from aid for days. El Salvador's infrastructure was also damaged by floodwaters, which followed on the heels of a volcanic eruption that forced about 4,000 people from their homes.
When that news reached local business and community groups, Salvadorans -- Washington's largest immigrant group -- planned a fundraiser within days. Andreas "Elmer" Arias, president of the U.S. Salvadoran Chamber of Commerce in Alexandria, said the group was able to act quickly because the community is better organized than it used to be. "We have the contact information for Salvadoran business owners, and we called them and they were willing to help."