Fri, Aug 24, 2007 - Page 7 News List

Peruvian quake causes wave of fleeing refugees

HOMELESS A week after the disaster, a daily stream of families with their belongings in cars, trucks and tricycles leaves town on the Panamerican highway

AFP , PISCO, PERU

The giant quake that wrecked this Pacific coastal town last week has set off a wave of refugees, driving up to 40 percent of its people to quit their ruined homes and move away, the Peruvian government said on Wednesday.

"Between 30 and 40 percent of the inhabitants have been forced to leave" Pisco, which formerly had a population of 130,000 people, Social Development and Women's Affairs Minister Virginia Borra said.

"There are no official figures that identify the scale of the problem," she said, stressing her number was an estimate.

A census is under way of the towns affected by the 8.0-magnitude earthquake -- of which Pisco was worst hit.

The quake killed 540 people in the area, according to an official toll, and destroyed around 85 percent of Pisco, leaving residents camping amid the ruins as the threat of disease and the stench of bodies under the rubble grew.

"It's definitely no longer possible to find any survivors," fire chief Alberto Marticorena said as teams continued combing the wreckage.

At least two more bodies were pulled form the rubble of a hotel on Wednesday.

More bodies were believed to be under the ruins of the Embassy hotel, frequented by backpackers, which buried an unknown number of people when it collapsed.

A week after the Aug. 15 disaster, a daily stream of families with their belongings packed into cars, trucks and tricycles heads out of town on the Panamerican highway.

Many have relatives in the capital Lima, some 240km up the coast, or in nearby towns.

"I can't stay here, my house is leveled. I'm off to Ayacucho where my eldest son lives," said Nilda Escobedo, a mother accompanied by two of her children.

"I hope to come back soon when my house is rebuilt, because I was born here and I will die here," she said.

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