Peru quake seriously damaged tourist sites

Historic churches and colonial-era haciendas along Peru’s southern coast suffered serious damage in last week’s earthquake, which also halted boat trips to an offshore wildlife reserve.

Launches that normally ferry sightseers to the rugged, guano-coated Ballestas Islands—home to sea lions and myriad bird species, including Humboldt penguins—sit idle at port after authorities closed the Paracas National Reserve, about 265km south-east of the capital.

The August 15 quake chipped rocks off coastal bluffs, and most of the arched rock formation known as “The Cathedral” came tumbling down.

The luxury Paracas Hotel near the reserve was closed indefinitely, damaged by a 1,5m ocean surge that flooded the 114-room hotel. A guard at its gate refused an Associated Press reporter entry.

He said no one was hurt at the hotel when the quake struck, but that it was uninhabitable. Its docks, a departure point for the Ballestas, looked to be intact from the beach.

In a statement, Peru’s Foreign Trade and Tourism Ministry lamented “significant damage” to old churches and other important tourist sites.

The 329-year-old colonial Hacienda San Jose, outside the city of Chincha, suffered partially collapsed walls but was largely intact, saved by its wooden roof.
The hacienda was declared a national monument in the late 1960s.

But the facade of the estate’s early 18th-century chapel was seriously damaged. The hacienda’s receptionist, Roxana Montoya, said she did not know whether it would be salvaged.

She, two police officers and a trio of reporters scurried away from the chapel on a recent morning during an aftershock, as its crumbling bell towers crackled and groaned.

Tourism Ministry officials are also inspecting hotels in the area that could be unstable. Many were severely damaged because they were “poorly constructed”, the ministry said.

In the port city of Pisco—hit hardest by last week’s quake that killed at least 540 people—the five-storey Embassy Hotel accordioned on to its ground floor, killing 15.

Other hotels survived intact. Peruvian judicial officials set up shop in one of them, the Posada Hispana, whose rooftop patio offered a panoramic view of a city in ruins.

Most buildings were built with unreinforced adobe in Pisco, where 85% of the homes were destroyed.

Oscar Gonzales, head of Ica’s National Culture Institute, said officials are taking inventory of about 2 800 pre-Inca monuments. He said burial sites are particularly vulnerable because of the loose desert soil.

The Nazca lines, world-famous desert geoglyphs, suffered no damage, the ministry said. Nor did the Inca ruins of Tambo Colorado inland along the Pisco River, although a huge boulder partially blocked the highway leading to it.—Sapa-AP

Associated Press writer Leslie Josephs in Lima, Peru, contributed to this report

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