LIMA, Peru (BP)–A Baptist disaster assessment team in Peru encountered the kind of lawlessness reported in areas hardest hit by the 8.0 earthquake Aug. 15 that has claimed more than 500 lives.
Kevin Shearer, a missionary with the Southern Baptist International Mission Board, reported that a team was on its way to assess earthquake damage Aug. 17, including the president of the Convention of Evangelical Baptists in Peru, Pepe Flores, when they found themselves stuck in traffic for almost three hours on the Pan American Highway.
As the four-vehicle caravan finally began moving across the bridge in San Clemente, Peru, a group of looters crowded one of the trucks, opened a window and stole blankets and personal hygiene items.
When the assessment team arrived in Ica, one of the hardest-hit towns, around 4 p.m. they watched a procession of more than 30 people following a casket to the local cemetery — the first of several funerals they watched in Ica that afternoon.
“These were the fortunate ones who were able to have caskets,” missionary Wayne Brinkley said, “because there are still a lot of bodies that are just laying in the main square because they haven’t been identified.”
While Peruvian media outlets estimate the earthquake toppled more than 33,200 homes in the area of Ica and Chincha, the unrelenting aftershocks have caused a devastation that is not only seen but also heard.
Throughout the night, police sirens and gunshots awakened team members as looters ran through the streets of Ica.
But the sounds that stand out in Brinkley’s mind were the panicked screams of Ica residents as two tremors shook their already devastated hometown.
“The people are so traumatized,” Brinkley said. “It wasn’t that things fell down on the people during these tremors; it’s just that they’re so scared.
“It was just constant until about 4 o’clock in the morning. It didn’t get quiet until the last couple of hours before daylight.”
Many of those living in areas leveled by the earthquake are now sleeping on the streets. Others have returned to structurally unsafe dwellings to protect what little they have from looters.
“Peruvians have shown themselves to be a resilient people,” Shearer said. “But this has taken its toll. This has bowed the backs of some of the strongest.”
Team members are continuing their assessment to determine types of relief needed in the region. They ask for prayer for Peruvian Christians as they comfort their neighbors and for their continued safety amid aftershocks and looting.
Kristen Hiller is a writer for the Southern Baptist International Mission Board.