Aftershocks rattle survivors, rescuers in Peru

Hundreds of aftershocks rumbled through earthquake-devastated zones in southern Peru Thursday, as rescuers rushed to dig survivors out from under collapsed buildings and offers of aid poured in from around the world.

Aftershocks rattle survivors, rescuers in Peru
Hundreds of aftershocks rumbled through earthquake-devastated zones in southern Peru Thursday, as rescuers rushed to dig survivors out from under collapsed buildings and offers of aid poured in from around the world.


"The toll has jumped to between 500 and 510 dead and 1,600 injured," the head of the country's firefighter service, Roberto Ocno, told AFP from Peru's southern coastal area, struck late Wednesday by a massive tremor.

"There are dead trapped under houses," he said. "There are several bodies in the streets, people who may have died from heart attacks."

The US Geological Survey (USGS) on Thursday upgraded the quake to a rare 8.0 on the moment magnitude scale, as the Peruvian government said helicopters and planes were airlifting emergency aid to the hard-hit coastal towns.

President Alan Garcia, who visited the stricken area Thursday, declared three days of national mourning for the earthquake victims, closing all public buildings including schools, military bases and museums.

Buildings collapsed, major highways to the coast were torn asunder and power lines knocked out by the quake, leaving overwhelmed local officials issuing urgent appeals for help.

"We have hundreds of dead lying in the streets, and injured people in the hospital. It is totally indescribable," said Juan Mendoza, the mayor of Pisco, which appeared to have suffered the worst damage from the quake.

"Seventy percent of the town is devastated," Mendoza said. "We don't have water, no communications, the houses are collapsed, the churches are destroyed," he said, adding his town of 130,000 urgently needed medical help.

Rescuers Thursday pulled six survivors from the church of San Clemente, which collapsed during a funeral mass packed with mourners. Many dead were still believed to be lying under the rubble.

An AFP reporter saw some 50 corpses on a Pisco sidewalk covered with blankets, as shocked survivors numbly surveyed the chaos that was wrought in just a matter of minutes.

Elsewhere in Peru, the quake claimed two lives in Lima from heart attacks as tens of thousands spent the night on the streets fearing more tremors.

Tsunamis flooded fishing villages on the Paracas bay, causing some damage, according to the locals.

And in Chincha, some 600 inmates fled the local penitentiary after the quake struck, authorities said.

Embassies in Lima were concerned about the death of foreign nationals in Paracas, a tourist mecca near Pisco that has been cut off since the earthquake struck.

In Washington, the US State Department reported that one American died in the earthquake.

Jittery nerves sometimes bordering panic attacks affected earthquake survivors and rescuers alike as more than 300 aftershocks, some as powerful as six degrees on the Richter scale, shook Peru after the main earthquake.

Aftershocks "can last up to three weeks" after a quake of Wednesday's magnitude, said Geophysical Institute of Peru expert Hernan Talavera.

It was the biggest earthquake to hit the South American nation in decades.

The Peruvian Red Cross sent an emergency team overland from Lima that took seven hours to reach Pisco instead of the usual two.

The United Nations said it was ready to help and the Geneva-based International Federation of the Red Cross said it sent two planes loaded with relief supplies for the earthquake victims.

Foreign governments and aid groups launched relief efforts, including the United States, Canada, Spain, Italy and France. Peru's regional neighbours have also mobilized including Ecuador, Bolivia, Brazil, Mexico, Venezuela, Colombia and Chile.

Pope Benedict XVI called for Roman Catholic organizations to provide assistance, as relief organizations including Firefighters Without Borders and Oxfam launched efforts to assist the earthquake victims.

US President George W. Bush offered his condolences and 100,000 dollars in emergency aid on Thursday, with the possibility of more to come.

The Inter-American Development Bank said it was sending 200,000 dollars in immediate humanitarian assistance.

The quake struck at 6:41 pm (2341 GMT) on Wednesday. It epicenter was located offshore about 148 kilometers (92 miles) southwest of Lima at a depth of 40 kilometers (25 miles), according to USGS.

Peru declared its highest state of emergency and hospitals around the country were put on high alert. The health ministry made an emergency appeal for blood donations.

Peru has long lived in fear of a repeat of a 1970 earthquake that killed 70,000 people, many of whom perished in the mountain city of Huaraz, which was buried by a mudslide.

AFP
Last Mod: 17 Ağustos 2007, 12:06
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