Health authorities in Peru yesterday battled the spread of infectious diseases in the wake of Wednesday's devastating earthquake as Peruvian President Alan Garcia threatened a curfew to stop looting.
"I have ordered to use the harshest measures and if needed to impose a curfew," Garcia told reporters in Pisco, the town hit hardest by Wednesday's quake, where he has been monitoring rescue efforts since Friday.
Amid increasing reports of looting and assaults, Garcia on Saturday ordered more troops to the quake-stricken area and promised that authorities would keep the peace "whatever the cost."
Garcia played down reports of looting in Pisco and Chincha, saying they were nothing more than "rumors," but a RPP radio reporter in Chincha broke down in tears describing the prevailing lawlessness in the city which he said the earthquake had devastated and left at the mercy of marauding gangs of armed thugs.
A government statement out of Lima, meanwhile, said 1,000 military have been sent to assist 2,000 police in patrolling streets in Pisco, Chincha, Ica and Canete, with orders to "deal firmly" with looting.
A Spanish team helping rescuers was shot at, sparking alarm but resulting in no injuries, a member of the squad said.
Also in this coastal city 240km southeast of Lima, Health Minister Carlos Vallejos said that some 1,500 doctors and nurses were struggling to prevent the spread of epidemic diseases among earthquake victims.
On the third day after Wednesday's massive 8.0 magnitude earthquake, the official toll remained at 500 and more than 1,600 injured.
But the number of missing is still unknown, and lacking official figures, news media estimate the number of people affected by the quake at 200,000.
There was a ray of hope on Pisco on Saturday when a baby was born in a field hospital in the city's main square.
Garcia took the baby in his arms calling it "a breath of life ... a miracle amid crumbling walls and the pain."
Around two-thirds of Pisco was destroyed, leaving many of its 130,000 inhabitants homeless and an unknown number of dead still beneath the rubble of collapsed homes, shops and other buildings.
Desperate survivors tried to raid a Pisco food store. The mob was chased off when the owners fired their weapons into the air.
Mobs looted trucks carrying food and water, and some people tried to break into the air force base where relief efforts have been centralized.
Hours later, close to the provincial capital of Ica, another mob tried to raid a convoy of trucks carrying emergency supplies.
In nearby Chincha, a group of people tried to break into a hospital believing it held emergency food supplies, hospital director Jorge Barrera said.
"People are complaining they're not getting any assistance, but that's not the problem, the problem is lack of security," said firefighter Mario Paredes, who was robbed of all his rescue equipment outside Chincha late on Friday.
At the Pisco air base, Garcia said he was determined to prevent chaos.
"My obligation is to impose order, and order we will impose today, whatever the cost," he said.
Aftershocks continued to keep people on edge. Peru's geophysical institute reported more than 400 tremors following the quake, which was the most devastating to hit the country since 1970.
People attended an open-air mass late on Saturday at the site of Pisco's San Clemente cathedral that collapsed during the earthquake killing an untold number of people inside.