Peru earthquake toll rises past 400

Peruvians pulled hundreds of dead from the rubble of homes and churches on Thursday, piling some of them on street corners after a huge earthquake ravaged the country’s central coast.

At least 437 people were killed in the 8,0-magnitude quake on Wednesday night, Peru’s civil defence agency said. Another 1 300 people were injured, and many expected the death toll to rise further.

As rescuers scrambled through the debris in search of survivors, dazed residents guarded bodies in the street, not sure where to take them.

“We don’t know what to do. I don’t know where to hold a wake for her,” Jose Flores, a boy about 12 years old, said as he stood near the body of his dead mother outside their destroyed adobe home in the city of Chincha, 200km south of the capital, Lima.
“The wall just came down and crushed her when I was outside,” he said.

In the nearby city of Pisco, 48 bodies were laid out in the main square.

The United States Geological Survey upgraded the quake’s magnitude to 8,0 from an earlier 7,9 measurement, and powerful aftershocks rattled the country on Thursday morning.

Many mud-brick houses crumbled. Residents placed the bodies of relatives and neighbours on street corners and hospitals were overwhelmed with injured. Wounded people lay on the floor in Chincha’s San Jose hospital, where walls were destroyed by the quake.

“A wall fell on her. There are no beds and they can’t give her a bed until they can X-ray her, but there’s no power,” Hernando Rodriguez told a Peruvian television station as he sat with his daughter in one hospital, hoping she could be moved to Lima.

Prisoners escape

Hundreds of prisoners ran out of Chincha’s Tambo de Mora prison, an old building that collapsed during the earthquake.

“The authorities couldn’t do anything. It was really hard to control all the prisoners,” said Manuel Aguilar, vice-president of Peru’s prison authority. He said 29 prisoners stayed behind.

In the San Juan de Dios hospital in Pisco, Dr Ricardo Cabrera said staff was struggling to cope with 200 wounded and more than 40 dead, with no power and a large part of the hospital damaged. He said there was no morgue in the city and bodies were being gathered in the main square and on street corners.

“There are a lot of bodies still in the rubble,” Cabrera told RPP radio, calling for blood, bandages and medicines.

Many people were forced to sleep outside in cities devastated by the huge tremor, which cracked highways and cut power and telephone lines.

“The first impression of the team is that damage is severe, especially to houses,” said Giorgio Ferrario, the South America representative for the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.

President Alan Garcia sent condolences to the families of the quake’s victims and said the country had narrowly escaped even greater disaster.

It was still one of the worst natural disasters to hit Peru in the last century. In 1970, an earthquake killed an estimated 50 000 Peruvians in catastrophic avalanches of ice and mud that buried the town of Yungay.

The United States Geological Survey said the quake on Wednesday was centred about 145km south-east of Lima at a depth of about 40km and was closely followed by nine aftershocks.

Peru is a leading minerals producer, but many of its major mines sit far away from the quake zone. The Cerro Lindo copper, zinc and lead mine near the zone suspended operations due to power cuts, but its structures were not damaged.—Reuters

A massive earthquake hit Peru on Wednesday evening and officials said hundreds of people were killed in the rubble of collapsed homes and churches as rescuers searched for victims early on Thursday.—Reuters

Some major earthquakes in South America, Central America and Mexico since 1970

May 31 1970—Peru: An earthquake of 7,9 magnitude destroys the towns of Yungay, Huaraz and Chimbote and surrounding villages, leaving more than 50 000 dead and 600 000 homeless.

December 23 1972—Nicaragua: An earthquake of 6,5 magnitude strikes Managua, killing between 5 000 and 7 000 people.

February 4 1976—Guatemala: A rash of quakes of up to 7,5 magnitude just north of Guatemala City kills 23 000 people, injures 80 000 and leaves 1,5-million homeless.

December 12 1979—Colombia: An undersea earthquake with a magnitude of 7,7 to 8,1 strikes the coast of Colombia, killing 600 people and leaving more than 80 000 homeless when the Port of Tumaco is devastated by the temblor and resulting tidal wave.

March 31 1983—Colombia: The city of Popayan is devastated by a quake of 5,5 magnitude as at least 500 people are killed and 3 000 families left homeless.

March 3 1985—Chile: Santiago is struck by an earthquake of 7,4 magnitude. One hundred and seventy-seven people die and thousands lose their homes.

September 19 1985—Mexico: An earthquake of 8,1 magnitude hits Mexico City and the adjoining region, killing between 6 000 and 12 000 people.

October 10 1986—El Salvador: A quake with a magnitude of 7,5 hits San Salvador. The death toll is about 1 500 with 20 000 people injured and more than 300 000 homeless.

March 5 1987—Ecuador: A quake with a magnitude of 7,0 hits El Reventador, 80km east of Quito. More than 1 000 people are killed.

May 29 1990—Peru: An earthquake of 5,8 magnitude strikes 130km north of the town of Moyobamba, killing 101 people.

September 1 1992—Nicaragua: An earthquake of 7,0 magnitude strikes the Pacific coast and kills 120 people. More than 16 000 are made homeless.

June 6 1994—Colombia: A 6,0-magnitude quake and resulting mudslides kill 1 000 people in the Paez River valley in south-western Colombia.

January 26 1999—Colombia: At least 938 people are killed and more than 4 000 injured when an earthquake of 6,0 magnitude hits the central coffee-growing region.

January 13, February 13 2001—El Salvador: Earthquakes of 7,6 magnitude on January 13 and 6,6 magnitude on February 13 kill more than 1 150 people and leave about one million homeless.

August 15 2007—Peru: An earthquake of 7,9 magnitude hits Peru and officials say at least 337 people died and 1 300 are injured.

Source: Reuters; US Geological Survey

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