Hundreds Dead in Peru Earthquake

Workers in Pisco, Peru, retrieve a body from a church that collapsed in the magnitude-8 earthquake Wednesday. Hundreds may have been buried in the rubble.
Workers in Pisco, Peru, retrieve a body from a church that collapsed in the magnitude-8 earthquake Wednesday. Hundreds may have been buried in the rubble. (By Martin Mejia -- Associated Press)
By Lucien Chauvin
Special to The Washington Post
Friday, August 17, 2007

LIMA, Peru, Aug. 16 -- Victims of Peru's deadliest earthquake in more than 35 years were pulled from the rubble of adobe huts and dust-covered buildings on Thursday, as tens of thousands of people displaced by the disaster sought shelter.

Authorities said 437 people had been killed and more than 800 injured in the 8.0-magnitude earthquake on Wednesday. The casualty figures were likely to rise as relief efforts spread out from urban areas and into the region's isolated mountainside communities.

More than 16,000 homes were seriously damaged in the quake, nearly all of them in the southern cities of Pisco and Ica.

The hardest-hit towns were without electricity and effectively cut off from the rest of the country. Sizable chunks of the Pan-American Highway, which travels along the Peruvian coast linking most of the country's major cities, were destroyed during the temblor. Relief workers said it could take days to reach some areas.

On the ground, residents were in need of blankets, clothing and food. In the city of Chincha, near Pisco, many of those displaced by the quake had congregated in a municipal soccer stadium.

"There are a lot of people still in the stadium," one resident, Maribel Valle Umbrosio, said in a telephone interview. "They don't have anything left and need urgent help."

Valle Umbrosio said her house was not seriously damaged in the quake, but she and other residents whose homes were apparently spared slept overnight in the stadium, fearing the consequences of powerful aftershocks. There had been more than 360 of them by 5 p.m. Thursday, authorities said, some as strong as magnitude-6.

Lima, the capital, was largely unscathed by the quake, whose epicenter was 95 miles to the south. Some buildings sustained minor damage; only one death was reported. Still, when the temblor struck at about 6:40 p.m. Wednesday, buildings swayed, the streets rolled like an ocean wave, and people screamed in panic.

The shaking lasted for two minutes. The newspaper La Republica captured the moment in a banner headline in its Thursday editions: "Two Minutes of Terror."

Sergio Alvarez, an emergency relief coordinator for Oxfam International, arrived in Pisco, a city of 116,000 people, aboard an air force flight about six hours after the earthquake. At the time, he said, the city still looked like "one big dust cloud." He estimated that up to 60 percent of the city's buildings could be permanently damaged.

"The immediate need is to get people food, water and temporary shelter," he said in a telephone interview. "We need to start thinking about the long term."

Peru's Civil Defense Institute, which supervises disaster relief, established an air bridge between Lima and Pisco, with air force planes ferrying tons of supplies to some of the affected areas and returning to the capital with seriously injured victims. Several hospitals in Ica were damaged in the earthquake.

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