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Killer quake exposes Peru's building flaws

Quality of Peru’s building materials and standards has been questioned after a massive magnitude 8.0 earthquake wreaked devastation on the country’s southern cities last week.

The cities of Pisco, Chancha and Ica sustained heavy damage and the death toll of 550 is expected to climb much higher as the efforts to recover bodies buried in the rubble begins in earnest.

Pisco is home to more than 120,000 people and bore the brunt of the quake. Officials estimate more than 70% of the city is destroyed.

Many of the structures that have remained standing are marked with a chalk ‘X’ on the door indicating they are unsafe to enter, particularly as the area continues to suffer aftershocks as strong as magnitude 5.0 or more.

The most dramatic collapsed structure was Pisco’s 128 year old San Clemente church in the main square of town.

Dozens died during a memorial service when the adobe mud brick walls fell in. Those standing in the concrete atrium, rebuilt in 1974, were the only survivors.

Structural experts have questioned the use of adobe bricks as material of choice. In poorer areas of the region where adobe bricks were the main building material almost no structure survived.

The power of the earthquake damaged the concrete buildings in Pisco as well. Many of these collapsed and only a handful are safe enough to use.

The walls of the emergency and surgical rooms of the city’s main hospital also collapsed and the bottom two floors of one of the city’s largest hotels, Hotel Embassy, disintegrated.

Water supplies have also been completely cut off in the affected region. The agency in charge of Peru’s water supply, the Superintendencia Nacional de Servicios de Saneamiento is sending dozens of tankers with drinking water into the region.

The quake ripped apart the PanAmerica Highway between the areas hardest hit and Lima. This has hindered aid efforts significantly.

Within hours of the quake, Vial del Perú – the concessionaire working on upgrading the roadway between Pucusana and Ica – was able to get some of its equipment into place to prepare makeshift repairs so traffic could resume in a limited manner.

The day after the quake, the government mobilised 9,000 workers to clean rockslides from the roadway. Crews with Luz del Sur, Peru’s main electrical service provider, have also mobilised to start repairing fallen power lines.

Peruvian President Alan Garcia has asked the Peruvian Chamber of Engineers to provide a list of firms that could provide volunteer engineers to help with the recovery and rebuilding effort.

In the hours following the magnitude 8.0 earthquake that struck Southern Peru last Wednesday, officials scrambled to get rescue workers to the region to help save those trapped in the rubble.

The second day officials weathered criticisms that help was arriving too slowly and tried to get water, food and medical supplies into the beleaguered area.

On the third day, the president called for the engineers. “We are moving past the first phase of the disaster response where we must bury the dead, transfer the injured and assure that water and aid is available to the survivors,” said Peruvian President Alan Garcia.

“Although there is still work to be done, we have to start now on the next phase where we remove the debris and facilitate the reconstruction of these cities.”

President of the Lima College of Engineers, Jorge Alva Hurtado, said that his organisation has had engineers in the disaster zone since the day the earthquake struck and that others are prepared to come when needed.

The plight of the survivors is harsh. There is no temporary housing – most residents are living in makeshift tents or simply on the streets.

Food and fresh water are being brought in by any method possible, but almost all of the affected area still lacked electricity as NCE went to press.

While donor nations and relief agencies have pledged a total of £20M in aid for those affected by the disaster, the Peruvian government has already started assembling funding and resources for the rebuilding effort.

The government created an emergency account of more than £16M for reconstruction effort and more than £2.5M in funds have been freed for various agencies involved in the immediate aid efforts.

The president of the Banco de la Nación is creating a £48M fund for the reconstruction of the affected zones.

The San Clemente Huamaní bridge leading into Pisco suffered heavy damage and traffic across it was limited to one direction as a precaution. Bulldozers had to clear a makeshift roadway across the shallow riverbed for northbound traffic.

Officials fear that the road damage will heavily dent the economic capability of the region unless it is fixed soon. The sale of exports from the region reached more than £650M last year – making it one of the key economic supports of the area.

Already, bus services that have routes through the region have reported the loss of more than £500,000 in business, reported the Asociación de Omnibus Interprovinciales del Perú.

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