Peru’s president vowed on Sunday to rebuild this southern city devastated by last week’s deadly earthquake, and said 1,200 soldiers were patrolling the rubble-strewn streets to put an end to the looting that compounded Pisco’s troubles.
Rescuers continued to search wrecked buildings with sound detectors and infrared cameras, but held out little hope for survivors.
President Alan Garcia, who has been in the disaster area since Thursday and has taken direct control of aid operations, said the government was preparing plans to rebuild Pisco, which lost 85 percent of its houses to Wednesday’s magnitude-8 quake. Officials say the quake killed at least 540 people in towns along Peru’s southern coast.
“We have many homes, fishermen’s wharfs to rebuild,” said Garcia. He said the government would provide basic two-bedroom homes.
A survey released Sunday showed that 76 percent of Lima’s residents, at least, approved Garcia’s management of the disaster. The poll by Apoyo had a margin of error of 4.4 percentage points.
Garcia accused the media of exaggerating reports of looting. He said desperation compelled some people to grab food as it was being distributed from trucks.
“That gave an impression of robbery, of looting, which in very few cases actually occurred,” he said. “But you could say that despite a few small incidents, order has been reestablished.”
Adequate food, water brought in
He said 280 air flights had brought 600 tons of food and other supplies and navy ships had brought potable water. “No one is going to die of thirst or hunger in these cities,” he said.
Long lines emerged spontaneously in the streets of Pisco on Sunday as official and non-official aid groups parked trucks and distributed water, food, clothing and other supplies.
Most appeared orderly, though on Saturday, some people who had lined up 500-deep screamed they had not eaten and rushed an Army truck when it ran out of the crackers, candy and toilet paper it was distributing at a soccer stadium.
Garcia vowed Saturday to re-establish order “regardless of what it costs.”
Garcia said Sunday that the troop presence in Pisco had increased from 400 to 1,200. Dozens of soldiers patrolled the downtown armed with assault rifles, and there were no reports of attempted looting since Saturday.
Authorities set up food distribution points in Pisco but very little aid seemed to be arriving to the estimated 80,000 people in the three cities most affected by the quake.
Planes that initially carried the injured to Lima were now being used to ferry supplies to the victims, Garcia’s Cabinet chief, Jorge del Castillo, told El Comerico newspaper.
But Miguel Soto, a police officer keeping guard in the stadium, said many trucks with food were not getting through.
He said food donated by one Lima district had been sacked on the traffic-clogged highway before it could reach Pisco. “These are just people taking advantage.”
Vatican sending a representative
Pope Benedict XVI announced that the Vatican’s secretary of state, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, would go to Peru to “bring the witness of my sentiment and the concrete aid of the Holy See.” The Italian news agency said he would leave on Thursday.
At least 1,500 people were injured and Garcia said at least 80,000 people had suffered the quake’s impact through the loss of loved ones or destroyed or damaged homes. The last survivor to be discovered, a man, was pulled from the rubble on Friday.
The U.S. government has released $150,000 in cash to pay for emergency supplies and dispatched medical teams. It also sent two mobile clinics and lent two helicopters.