The earthquake in Peru
I’ve received a lot of questions about the recent 8.0 earthquake that's been all over the news. How did it affect me? Will it affect what I’m doing in the Peace Corps? Am I doing relief work now? Et cetera.
The earthquake did a lot of damage about 90 miles south of Lima in an area called Pisco and Ica. The town of Pisco was hit by a tsunami that went about 10 blocks into the city – leaving 295 of the 310 boats somewhere within the city (so only 15 are operational right now). Aftershocks are felt daily, some strong enough that when the inhabitants feel them, they run to high ground. Over a quarter of the houses in Ica and Pisco were completely destroyed and about half are structurally unsafe now, especially with all the aftershocks. There is also a large prison in Ica and 600 convicts escaped (which might cause some of the looting - or it might just be the lack of food, etc). The town is reporting that most are captured, but no one down here believes them.
During the earthquake I was in a combi – the mode of public transportation down here. They are bigger than a van but smaller than a bus. Think of a short bus without the handicapped sign. We were stopped for the quake but our van was rocking back and forth that made me feel as if I were in a rap video in a pimped-out combi with hydraulics.
Unfortunately, the amount of help that I can give is about the same amount as others – even though I’m 90 miles away. Peace Corps is not relief work – they are a development organization. There are 7 volunteers placed in the Pisco-Ica area, and they are all planning on returning to the site to continue to work once the sites are deemed safe. Peace Corps takes many precautions regarding volunteer’s safety, so we are not able to take part in much of the clean-up work. Most volunteers are recently graduated college kids and if Peace Corps wants to keep volunteers coming in, they have to take a lot of precautions. Crisis Corps, which is the relief-hand of Peace Corps is looking into ways that they can help. I’ll still be going to the mountains (in one week).
The best thing that anyone can do is donate money to the relief agencies and right now our office is looking into which ones are reputable and committed to staying. After a big disaster like this you see a bunch of relief agencies and NGO’s putting their hands all over it hoping for some press time. Usually there is no shortage of help with the beginning process of relief work. The main question is which of those helping hands are going to stay longer than 6 months? Or longer than a year? Once the sexy part is over and the news agencies no longer care about the area, what agencies are going to continue helping rebuild infrastructure and get the area’s economy going again?
Earthquakes are pretty normal in this area. About every 30 years a big one hits. Most of the houses are built to withstand earthquakes but the poorer houses that are only adobe are easily destroyed. The area I'll be living for the next two years had a really bad earthquake in 1970 that killed about 100,000 people. One town of 18,000 was completely covered by a mudslide, which is about 15 miles from where I'll be living - but fear not, I think this was the big one for the next thirty years.