Saturday, August 18, 2007


I´m sure that by now everyone knows we had a pretty big earthquake here (7.0 on the Richter scale) on Wednesday, centered about a hundred miles southwest of Lima. Our power was out until yesterday, so I haven´t had any internet access. Lima was terrified and shaken but escaped with very little damage. The surprising thing was the duration of the quake -- almost two minutes. One report I heard on the radio said that there were actually quakes in two different places almost simultaneously. These pictures are from a Lima newspaper.

The major damage occurred in the province of Ica. A couple of churches were severely damaged (one during a mass, which resulted in a lot of deaths). Thousands of houses were damaged or destroyed. A tsunami warning was issued and was later canceled, but lots of fishing boats were driven ashore into buildings by high waves, so I assume there was at least a small tsunami.

We like to think that in times of disaster people come together and show their solidarity, but in this case an awful lot of people have been shamelessly taking advantage of the situation. Certainly there has been an outpouring of aid from people in other areas of the country and from other countries. But local residents have sacked stores whose walls were damaged by the quake; gangs of delinquents have roamed the affected areas at night stealing whatever they want from the damaged houses; bandits have robbed trucks carrying relief supplies at gunpoint as they edged slowly along the damaged roads; bus companies have doubled their fares from Lima to Ica.

The government has announced a program to compensate the victims, paying several thousand dollars to each family to help them rebuild. But that program will undoubtedly be abused too. My friend Walter, a psychologist who has worked in relief efforts for other quakes, says that he has often seen people whose houses were unaffected by the quake personally destroying their own houses so that the government would pay for a new one.

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