Peru sends soldiers to quake zone

Troops to keep order after desperate survivors looted relief convoys.

Rescue workers admitted that time was running out in the search for survivors [AFP]

Peruvian soldiers have been deployed to keep order in areas affected by a devastating earthquake, as victims wait for relief supplies to arrive. 

Dozens of survivors of Wednesday’s magnitude eight tremor looted a convoy of military trucks that were bringing food and clothing to Pisco, the southern coastal city devastated by the country’s worst natural disaster in years.

People fought over boxes of milk and cans of tuna on Saturday as the troops tried to restore order. Delays in the distribution of aid meant that tens of thousands of people were becoming desperate for help.

“The supply trucks go by and the anguish of watching them pass without giving us anything forces us to stop them and take what we need,” Reyna Macedo, a 60-year-old mother of seven who lost her home, said.

In one street in Pisco, hundreds of people ran towards a truck delivering sacks of food, some climbing up onto its sides. Nervous workers and police on board told the driver to accelerate away before the mob stormed the vehicle.

‘Highway robbers’

Mercedes Araoz, the foreign commerce minister, said during a visit to a military air base outside Pisco that robbing and 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.”

There were also unverified reports of shootings overnight as rival gangs ransacked abandoned homes along the coast.

Teresa Bo, Al Jazeera’s correspondent in Pisco, said the situation remained tense in the city.

“People are afraid of being looted, people around here told us that looters have gone into their houses and stolen everything they had,” she said.

“Others said they had to go outside their buildings and shoot into the air to drive away the looters.”

Alan Garcia, the Peruvian president, has urged victims to remain calm and patient.

“My obligation is to impose order, and order we will impose today, whatever the cost,” he said, after the defense minister announced that about 1,000 soldiers were being sent to the region.

Relief supplies

But at least some relief was beginning to arrive in Pisco.

“There is not enough for everybody, but it is a start,” Valentin Fernandez, a co-ordinator at a distribution point in the central square, said as armed soldiers yelled at the crowds to form an orderly queue.

The San Clemente church in Pisco collapsed
as mass was being held [AFP]

He admitted that the rush was “a little chaotic” at first but was soon made orderly.

A US embassy official working with the Peruvian Red Cross said 22 American doctors had set up a field hospital in a stadium in the city, and a plane loaded with humanitarian supplies was scheduled to arrive late on Saturday.

In the nearby town of Chincha, about 2,000 angry survivors gathered in the main square on Saturday, screaming at officials who were unable to tell them when aid would begin to arrive.

Soldiers broke up a mob of men and women armed with broomsticks that tried to break into a warehouse filled with emergency supplies.

Rescue efforts

More than 500 people were killed in the quake and 33,000 families are believed to have lost their homes. Many of the victims perished after their flimsy mud-brick homes caved in.

International rescue teams were continuing to use sound detectors, sniffer dogs and cameras to look for survivors in the mountains of rubble but warned that time was running out.

“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,” Paul Wooster, co-ordinator of the Rapid UK Rescue team from Gloucester, England, said.

The last survivor was discovered at midday on Friday.

Emergency workers pulled more bodies from the destroyed San Clemente church in Pisco, where hundreds had gathered on Wednesday for mass. The church’s domed ceiling broke apart in the tremor that lasted for two minutes.

“According to rescuers and firefighters, there are still dozens of bodies below” Garcia said as he visited the site on Friday.

Source : Al Jazeera, News Agencies

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