The San Salvador earthquake of May 3, 1965 was preceded by a local seismic swarm of three months duration. The main shock was destructive in a densely populated area of not more than 15 km in radius; the same general area was damaged in the earthquakes of 1576, 1659, 1798, 1839, 1854, 1873, 1880, 1917, and 1919. Over 120 casualties were reported.
The epicenter has been located on the south rim of the Median Trough, a post-Pliocene structure which accounts for the high seismic and volcanic activity in the region. The observed intensity is attributable to shallow focal depth and to the presence of thick inhomogeneous beds of fluviatile pumice. The tectonic setting and shallow subsurface factors should be recognized in future building codes and zoning regulations.