Rescuers in Peru Quake Lose Hope

The Associated Press
Monday, August 20, 2007; 4:23 PM

PISCO, Peru -- Rescuers gave up hope of finding any more survivors and concentrated Monday on clearing tons of rubble from the streets of this southern port city leveled by a powerful earthquake that killed at least 540 people.

The magnitude-8 quake on Wednesday destroyed more than 85 percent of the homes in Pisco, a fishing port 125 miles southeast of Lima that was the hardest hit city.

Rescue workers have removed 148 bodies from a church in the city after its domed ceiling broke apart during the earthquake. It was not clear how many of the 300 congregants inside survived the shaking that lasted for an agonizing two minutes.

Jorge Vera, a firefighter who led the operation to find survivors at the San Clemente church in Pisco, said Sunday the rescue work had stopped and the focus was now on recovering the bodies. Friday was the last time a survivor was pulled from the quake's debris.

Meanwhile, the government was preparing plans to rebuild Pisco.

"I am traveling with the head of the Civil Defense to Pisco to begin the clean-up," President Alan Garcia said early Monday in Lima after he returned from heading rescue operations in Pisco for the past four days.

Garcia said plans include providing small two-bedroom homes to people who lost their houses, made of concrete blocks and steel rods designed to withstand earthquakes better than unreinforced adobe.

In a preliminary report the Civil Defense said the quake destroyed 35,214 homes _ including 16,000 in Pisco and 16,010 in nearby Chincha. It reported another 4,053 houseswere badly damaged.

Garcia also said 1,200 soldiers had restored calm to the streets where days earlier, hungry quake victims looted aid trucks and markets.

The Vatican on Monday joined other international donors, saying it had sent $200,000 in aid for quake victims.

Some 280 planes arrived with 600 tons of food and other supplies destined for quake survivors, and navy ships had brought potable water.

"No one is going to die of thirst or hunger in these cities," Garcia said on Sunday.

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