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Peru Earthquake Aid Still Patchy

Relief: High-profile Arequipa gains attention at expense of devastated towns on outskirts.

July 01, 2001|VANESSA ARRINGTON | ASSOCIATED PRESS

MOQUEGUA, Peru — Alfredo Surco lost everything when a devastating earthquake ravaged his isolated highland town on June 23. But like most people here whose simple adobe homes were destroyed, he has yet to see tents, food, medicine and other aid.

The 36-year-old, unemployed construction worker said victims of the 8.1-magnitude quake in towns and villages around Moquegua, population 75,000, have taken a back seat to nearby Arequipa, a colonial jewel that is Peru's second-largest city with about 1 million people.

World attention has focused on the destruction there, including the collapse of a 17th-century cathedral steeple. Arequipa is a popular tourist destination and UNESCO world heritage site.

In poor, little-known Moquegua, which shared the quake's brunt, some 80% of all buildings were destroyed or severely damaged. Still, only 400 tents have arrived--leaving most of the 40,000 people to fend for themselves on debris-filled streets.

Civil defense officials in each area give differing damage estimates in the other area. But those in Arequipa say their state has 8,714 houses destroyed or damaged, while those in Moquegua state say they have 9,000. Five died in the city of Arequipa, while 21 died in Moquegua city.

Snags in delivering aid are common after any disaster, but many say regional politics are also working against them.

"Arequipa is simply more powerful," said Carmen Gamez, who owns an ice cream and soda shop in Moquegua's main plaza.

Even Peru's media has turned its back on victims here, focusing coverage on Arequipa and even passing off images from Moquegua as coming from its better-known neighbor.

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Moquegua city manager Luis Cornejo was in Arequipa when the earthquake struck and couldn't believe his eyes when he turned on the television and saw footage from Moquegua identified as Arequipa.

Lack of exposure has led to lack of aid. But there are other problems blocking aid from getting to Moquegua. Moquegua sits in a valley surrounded by sandy, dry mountains; roads leading to it are notoriously poor.

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