Updated: Aid pours into devastated Peruvian city
By Tyler Bridges
Copyright 2007 The Miami Herald Media Company
PISCO, Peru — Relief began pouring into this devastated city Friday as residents tried to cope with the loss of hundreds of lives and with physical and emotional trauma.
Authorities moved quickly to deliver supplies -- from drinking water to prefabricated homes. But the grim scene made it clear it would be a long time before a sense of normalcy returned.
As hundreds of people who had fled their homes in Pisco streamed back in by bus and on foot, coffins still sat in the town square. Rescue workers slowly filled them with bodies recovered from the rubble.
''Tell people to send help,'' Reina Macedo, a neighborhood leader in Pisco, pleaded. ``Everything is ruined. We need food. Please, sir, help us. We are hungry.''
The desperation for food and water led to some looting at a public market and a refrigerated trailer carrying supplies along the Panamerican highway, The Associated Press reported.
Peruvian President Alan García appealed for calm.
''I understand your desperation, your anxiety, and some are taking advantage of the circumstances to take the property of others, take things from stores, thinking they're not going to receive help,'' García said. ``There is no reason to fall into exaggerated desperation knowing that the state is present.''
The 8.0 magnitude earthquake that struck Wednesday night killed at least 510 people and injured more than 1,550. Much of the damage and loss of life occurred in this port city of 130,000 that sits 125 miles southwest of Lima. Officials estimate about 85 percent of the downtown area was destroyed.
At least 18 aftershocks of magnitude-5 or greater have struck since the first quake.
The government said Friday some 80,000 people have been affected, and media reports said 17,000 were displaced by the devastation. Much of southern Peru remained without electricity, water and phone service Friday.
García predicted ''a situation approaching normality'' in 10 days, but acknowledged that reconstruction would take far longer.
In a dirt soccer field in the center of town, nine filled coffins lay under a tent, each with a name written on paper taped to the top of the casket. The yellow metal soccer goals held up a white and blue flag -- the emblem of soccer team Alianza -- over the coffins.
A woman who did not identify herself said her husband and one of her sons were in two of those coffins. A couple and their son lay in the other coffins. Their bodies were recovered from a bed where they had huddled together when the quake struck.
''There are 10 more bodies and we don't have enough coffins,'' said Reinaldo Pisconte, 51, a mechanic, who was helping with recovery efforts.
Others scrambled to feed their families. ''We haven't eaten in two days,'' said José Luis Escate, 35.
In his right hand he carried his breakfast -- a live duck. A neighbor handed out 14 ducks to hungry people, Escate said. ``People are fighting over food.''.
Fear still permeated the air. A morning aftershock set off a panic.
''Get away from the walls,'' someone cried out as the earth trembled shortly after 8 a.m.
Someone ran out to the street, Calle Alejandro Reyes, that was still covered with rubble. Tears streamed down frightened faces even as some tried to calm the crowd.
''Tranquilo, tranquilo,'' someone shouted. ``Stay calm.''
At the air force base in Pisco, Grupo Aéreo 51, aid was pouring in.
The U.S. government said it had released $150,000 in emergency funds for supplies and was sending in medical teams -- one of which is already on the ground. It said it was sending two mobile clinics and had loaned two helicopters to Peruvian authorities.
''Planes are arriving constantly from Lima.'' said James Atkins, who is heading up the relief efforts for the National Peruvian Civil Defense, adding that some 15 tons of rice, sugar, cooking oil and milk had come in from Bolivia.
Also flying in were doctors and civil defense personnel from Colombia.
''I want international nonprofit groups to bring their aid here to the airport,'' Atkins said. ``It causes chaos if they give it out directly to the people.''
''They fight over the food,'' he said. 'It's like they say, `Here it is,' and people come running. We need to give the aid out in an orderly way.''
Atkins said that what is most needed is dry food, bottled water, blankets, mattresses, antibiotics and tents. Such provisions were already beginning to fill the hangar. Among the aid were 12-pack containers of bottled orange juice, soft drinks and bottled water. Sacks of rice, sugar, diapers and blankets also took up floor space. The supplies were being loaded into pickup trucks for distribution.