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Peru – You forgot to scrape the seaweed off the wall!

November 10, 2007 - Peru

by Steve Henrichon

Last Saturday, I accompanied Niña Julia back to her house when she was finished working at the hostel…at 9am. She only lives 2 blocks down the street. She wanted to introduce me to her family and give me a short tour of San Andres. Her family is very hospitable and they made me feel very comfortable. She lives with her parents, Niña Isabel and Don Gilberto, her brothers & their wives, her three children, and several young nieces and nephews. They have an interesting story to tell and Don Gilberto and Niña Isabel were gracious enough to relate their experience and give me a tour of their house…or at least a tour of the destroyed skeleton of a house that once was.

When the earthquake hit, the roof collapsed all around and the foundation began to crack. Luckily everyone made it out of the house in time. Once outside, they realized the forgot the baby so someone ran back into the crumbling house to fetch the newborn baby. Everyone was okay.

Their house is right on the water. If you lived on the water, what would be your first thought following such an earthquake? TSUNAMI!!! Everyone from San Andres immediately ran inland. Niña Julia and her family packed into the car and drove up to San Clemente which is at a higher elevation and waited. When they were assured that is was safe to
return home, they drove back to San Andres only to find their house completely destroyed…not only from the earthquake but also from a 2 meter surge of water that washed over three blocks inland just 30 minutes after the earthquake. The house was flooded with standing, muddy sea water. They have 12 ducks, 4 roosters, 6 rabbits and a turtle whom where smart enough to find their way up to the roof of the portion of their house still intact. The turtle was happy to be swimming in the water. None of the animals died even when the surge came through.

All of their personal belongings that would have been salvageable amongst the rubble was destroyed in the sea water. Niña Isabel’s nice dresses, Don Gilberto´s tools, couches, furniture, the families TV and DVD player…everything destroyed. Anything that was metal quickly oxidized in the sea water. When the sea water found its way out of their house, they were left with several dead fish throughout the house, and seaweed caught on the walls. They showed me seaweed on the side of the window shutter facing the water that was about 1.5 meters high. Their house was built with modern materials. Yet the foundation still started to crumble when the surge came. The water carved out pits into the earth all around the foundation and even inside their house, creating chasms. Don Gilberto showed me when his bedroom was. He showed me where a nice doorway arch used to be. All that’s left is a few badly cracked walls that will soon be torn down.

A portion of the house did not collapse so they are still able to use their kitchen. Outside, the whole family…Grandma, Grandpa, the adults, and several kiddies…the whole family sleeps in four small tents.

Afterwards, Don Gilberto took me on a tour of Pisco along with Niña Isabel, Julia, and Julia’s son, Andres. At this point, it was about 10:30p. This was actually the first legitimate guided tour I have received of Pisco with someone who wanted to show me the damage and knew where to take me. We drove down Pisco Playa…the beach area of Pisco. All the homes right on the water were completely destroyed, opening up a nice view of the beach from the next row of houses back if they were lucky enough to still be standing. I was shown a old hotel…or as they call them, antigua, meaning antique. Parts of the hotel were still standing but it was completely demolished. I saw a ball room to a hotel, where the ground looked like it just opened up and swallowed the floor.

We visited an apartment building that I have actually seen in photos. Picture a three story apartment building supported on massive columns which created a parking garage on the ground level. Now…picture what would happen if only the columns on the front of the building collapsed, but the columns supporting the back of the building remained strong. This entire apartment building (which did not collapse) was leaning forward. People in their apartments probably fell out of their windows when the whole building started tilting towards the ground. You can see into the garage and a few cars were completely smashed.

We visited a thin three story building that was still intact but was badly leaning to one side. I dubbed it the Leaning Tower of Pisca. I was taken to the site of a collapsed cinema. I saw the Hotel Regidor which is a 6 story hotel…still in tact but very badly damaged. You see, the 6-story hotel, was cracked in half. Quite a site. This crack splits a column at ground level in half and it continues all the way up the side of the building for 6 floors. The crack shoots across the ceiling to the back of wall. If you stand in the first floor and look up through the crack, you can make out sky.

No tour of Pisco is complete without a visit to the collapsed church in the Plaza de Armas. The number “148” is spray painted on the side of the remaining wall fragment. I will leave it to you to guess what the 148 signifies. When there is an earthquake, where do you go? Are you safe inside your house? Safer outside in the street? I have heard of people who ran out of their house only to be hit in the head with falling rubble and killed in the street. Anyways, in the Plaza de Armas, pandemonium ensued. People were scared. Many people in the plaza turned to the church…a symbol of strength, faith, and stability…a massive church which has been standing on the plaza de Armas for 100 years…the people run into it to seek shelter… seconds before it collapses leaving no survivors.

The next day, I went back to Niña Julia’s house. They treated me to a fantastic lunch although I had one hell of a time convincing them that I do not deserve three tuna omelets when everyone else in the family only gets one. Don Gilberto and gave me another extended tour of his house and then the same tour of Pisco, narrated by his son Pepe…only this time, for the video camera since it was now day time. Despite spending hours driving me around, he refused to take my money for gas which is over $4/gallon.

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