PISCO, Peru (AP) — Soldiers headed yesterday to stretches of a highway plagued by looting near this southern fishing city, trying to restore order in an area devastated first by a magnitude-8 earthquake and now beset by what the government called “highway robbers.”
Dozens of hungry survivors of the quake that struck Wednesday leapt onto military trucks bringing food, fighting over boxes of milk and cans of tuna as soldiers sought to restore order. Delays in aid distribution meant tens of thousands of Peruvians were becoming desperate.
Destruction centered in Peru’s southern desert, in the oasis city of Ica and in nearby Pisco, about 125 miles southeast of the capital, Lima. The death toll stood at 510.
In Pisco’s soccer stadium, a lone truck sent by Lima’s mayor passed out little packets of crackers, candy and toilet paper, wrapped in plastic. More than 500 men who lined up got nothing because all the supplies were handed out to women.
Miguel Soto, a police officer keeping order in the stadium, said many trucks with food simply were not getting through.
He said food donated by one Lima district had been sacked on the traffic-clogged highway before it could reach Pisco. “These are just people taking advantage.”
President Alan Garcia again urged patience as victims looted markets and blocked arriving aid trucks. “The state has two obligations: to help and to maintain order,” he told reporters.
The delivery of goods “must be gradual,” Mr. Garcia said a day earlier, adding he ordered 200 troops to the area to maintain order.
Speaking yesterday at a military air base outside Pisco, Foreign Commerce Minister Mercedes Araoz said robbing and looting continued to be a problem, adding, “We’re trying to do something about the highway robbers. … The army is heading to the area now to control it.”
Rescuers continued to pull bodies from the rubble of the downtown San Clemente church in Pisco, where hundreds had gathered on Wednesday for Mass. The church’s domed ceiling broke apart in shaking that lasted an agonizing two minutes.
Paul Wooster, coordinator of the Rapid UK Rescue team from Gloucester, England, said rescuers were using sound detectors and infrared cameras to search mountains of rubble.