August 16, 2007
As feared, the death toll in Peru has climbed rapidly as the full impact of yesterday evening's earthquake gradually becomes known. As of late Thursday afternoon, it stands at almost 500, but it could still rise much higher. It is estimated that 80,000 people have been left homeless because of the destruction. Dozens of cities and towns were heavily damaged, and the mayor of Pisco (famous for the "Pisco sour" drink) estimated that his city was 70% destroyed. The main coastal highway has been rendered impassible in several locations, making it very hard for rescue crews to get to the affected area. President Garcia declared a state of emergency, and paid a visit to Ica, according to one press account. Damage in Lima itself seems relatively minor, and it is perhaps fortunate that this quake was not centered closer to the nation's main population center. Destruction on a massive scale will have a very depressing effect on the economy in future months, a big setback for Peru, which has enjoyed the most stable growth in all of Latin America for the past few years. The Lima stock market plunged by 7 percent, a huge drop for a single day. For the latest reports, see [CNN.com], BBC and El Comercio (in Spanish). In addition, Gateway Pundit has been covering this tragedy in detail; link via Instapundit. Finally, there is a photo gallery of the earthquak damage at washingtonpost.com.
The epicenter was located 95 miles south-southeast of Lima, and was about 19 miles under ground. The Pacific and South American tectonic plates are in a hard, drawn-out collision, and events like this one are the only visible evidence we have of that phenomenon. The U.S. Geological Survey revised the estimated magnitude of the earthquake to 8.0 on the Richter scale. That would make it the second strongest earthquake in Peru's history, after the 2001 quake near the highland city of Arequipa in the south.
May God bless the survivors and the relatives of the victims. The Red Cross is beginning to mobilize [relief] efforts, and I only wish I had sufficient training in disaster relief to help.
UPDATE (10:00 PM EDT): The latest fatality count stands at 510, according to El Comercio. There have been 368 aftershocks over the 26 hours since the main earthquake struck. This horrible event lasted two full minutes, which probably seemed like hours to those who were experiencing it. Even well-reinforced buildings have a hard time withstanding shock waves that continue for such a long time. One should be aware that virtually all commercial and residential buildings in Peru, even very plain and modest dwellings, are built with steel reinforcing bars, so as to protect against seismic shocks. However, many homes are built with concrete that was not properly mixed, and are therefore more prone to crumble under pressure.
In Pisco, near the epicenter, as many as 200 people who were attending mass are believed to be buried in the rubble of a church. Another church in Ica collapsed during a service as well.