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Peruvians Struggle in Wake of Quake

THE WORLD

Disaster: Death toll climbs to 97, and 50 are reported missing. With nearly 50,000 homeless, relief is a challenge.

June 26, 2001|From Reuters

MOQUEGUA, Peru — Tens of thousands of Peruvians hit by a devastating earthquake scrambled for scarce tents, food and warm clothing Monday as the death toll lurched higher.

The national civil defense agency said that 97 people had been reported killed--39 of them in a tidal wave triggered by Saturday's fierce quake--and that more than 46,400 people were homeless.

"The toll is going up because we're getting reports in from isolated areas," spokesman Jose Carlos Portocarrero said.

More than 50 people were reported missing, and officials expected the death toll to mount.

"We are sleeping on the street, and no one is helping us. [Relief officials] just come and go," said Giovana Arriola, 41, who had camped out with her husband and three children in the rubble-strewn streets of this southern city for a second winter night.

"They say tents were brought, but we haven't seen any," said Lucia Jimenez, 40, a mother of two.

The U.S. Geological Survey's upgraded magnitude of the temblor that flattened villages from the Andes to the Pacific coast--8.1--elevated it to a "great" earthquake from the "major" one indicated by an earlier estimate of 7.9.

The sea had reportedly receded more than half a mile in the coastal town of Camana, where the tidal wave left vast stretches of empty, eroded buildings and piles of wreckage. Local officials said that roughly 20 people were still missing, some reportedly fishermen at sea when the disaster hit.

"It was like the end of the world," said one tearful Camana woman.

Relief agencies said the next challenge would be reaching isolated hamlets, some accessible only by helicopter.

Interim President Valentin Paniagua declared a state of emergency Sunday for the entire region as he visited several quake-hit towns, including Peru's second-largest city, Arequipa, and Moquegua, about 540 miles southeast of Lima, where he said the situation was "heart-wrenching."

In Moquegua--which means "silent place" in the indigenous Quechua language--residents stretched their hands out to Paniagua, begging for help against a backdrop of destruction.

An estimated 80% of the buildings in Moquegua were reported damaged or destroyed. Soldiers shoveled rubble while residents gathered their belongings. People erected makeshift tents and spent the bitterly cold night in parks and schools.

Rescue workers delivered food, medicine and other aid where they could, to try to prevent the outbreak of disease. The Red Cross said international experts were arriving to assist about 800 volunteers in delivering tents and warm clothing to victims.

In Chile, 30 people were reported injured, while buildings were damaged and some roads were cut off. But the country said it would send humanitarian aid to its northern neighbor.

Peru's worst quake ever, in 1970, had a magnitude of 7.9, killed 70,000 people and left 600,000 homeless.

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