Peru seeks to quell looting after deadly earthquake

Families huddle in makeshift shelters; hope diminishes for rescuers searching for survivors with sound detectors and infrared cameras.

Peru quake 298.88 (photo credit: AP)
Peru quake 298.88
(photo credit: AP)
The government sent more troops to stem looting in earthquake-shattered Peru as desperate families huddled in makeshift shelters and hope diminished for rescuers searching mountains of rubble with sound detectors and infrared cameras. Military trucks carrying supplies were swarmed Saturday by dozens of people in the port city of Pisco, and survivors fought over cans of tuna and cartons of milk. In a soccer stadium, more than 500 people lined up at a lone truck that passed out packets of crackers, candy and toilet paper. When the food ran out, people rushed the truck screaming that they had not yet eaten. President Alan Garcia vowed to re-establish order in areas hit by Wednesday's magnitude-8 quake "regardless of what it costs." "Whoever tries to cause a disturbance is going to face the consequences," Garcia told reporters, as the government deployed an additional 1,000 soldiers to area. Authorities set up a number of food distribution points in Pisco but very little aid seemed to be arriving to the estimated 80,000 people affected by the quake. At one end of a soccer field, families who had lost everything protected themselves in a half dozen makeshift shelters made of cardboard and blankets held up by wooden poles. "It is very cold at night and we don't have blankets. We don't have water. The tents have not arrived," said Maria Tataja, 38, who was sharing an open-fronted shelter with nine other people. She shivered in the ocean breeze. Planes that initially carried the injured to Lima were now being used to ferry supplies to the victims, Garcia's Cabinet chief, Jorge del Castillo, told El Comerico newspaper. But Miguel Soto, a police officer keeping guard in the stadium, said many trucks with food were not getting through. He said food donated by one Lima district had been sacked on the traffic-clogged highway before it could reach Pisco. "These are just people taking advantage." Defense Minister Allan Wagner told The Associated Press on Saturday in Pisco that the death toll had risen to 540, up from the previous figure of 510 provided by firefighters. Destruction was centered in Peru's southern desert, the oasis city of Ica and nearby Pisco, about 125 miles southeast of the capital of Lima. As many as 80 percent of the people in quake-hit urban areas may not have access to clean water and many rural communities still have not been reached to assess the damage, said Dominic Nutt, part of an emergency assessment team in Peru for the aid agency Save the Children. "The situation is probably worse than first imagined," Nutt said by telephone from Lima. Wagner said the number of soldiers in Pisco would be increased from 400 to 1,000. The remaining 400 soldiers from the new deployment would go to other areas. Foreign Commerce Minister Mercedes Araoz said looting continued to be a problem: "We're trying to do something about the highway robbers. ... The army is heading to the area now to control it." Hopes of finding more survivors diminished. At least 1,500 people were injured and Garcia said at least 80,000 people had suffered the quake's impact through the loss of loved ones or destroyed or damaged homes. Paul Wooster, coordinator of the Rapid UK Rescue team from Gloucester, England, said rescuers were using sound detectors and infrared cameras to search mountains of rubble. The latest survivor to be discovered, a man, was pulled from the rubble on Friday. "We always work on a four-day window and I'm talking realistically. So we are still looking for survivors but there's not much more time," Wooster said. Motorcycle taxi driver Marco Coila said he had moved his family out of Pisco to a village where they hoped to find more food, but found little there. "There is nothing to eat. There is a lot of looting going on," Coila said. The earthquake also damaged some of the country's natural wonders. In the Paracas National Reserve, a wildlife sanctuary on the coast near Pisco, a rock monument known as "The Cathedral" was severely damaged when a chunk of the formation that juts out into the Pacific Ocean chipped off during the quake. Oscar Gonzales, head of Ica's National Culture Institute, said officials will take inventory of some 2,800 pre-Inca monuments in the Ica department, including ancient burial grounds of the Nazca and Paracas cultures, where mummies may have been damaged. The US government has released $150,000 in cash to pay for emergency supplies and dispatched medical teams. It also sent two mobile clinics and lent two helicopters. Aftershocks continued in the area Saturday as a 5.8-magnitude temblor struck off the coast between Ica and Chincha Alta.