LIMA, Peru, Aug. 18 — Faced with looting by armed gangs in the southern region devastated by Wednesday’s earthquake and under strain of electricity blackouts and short supplies of food and water, the authorities here said Saturday that they were sending 600 soldiers in an attempt to impose order.
The New York Times
Pisco, a city of 130,000, “seems like it was bombed,” said one Peruvian lawmaker. More Photos »
Defense Minister Allan Wagner Tizón said that the extra troops would bring the number of military personnel to 1,000 in the cities of Pisco, Ica, Cañete and Chincha Alta, which were hardest hit by the earthquake. The death toll has risen to more than 500.
In Pisco, where hundreds of people died in homes and in a church that collapsed, soldiers from Peru’s special forces patrolled streets near the central plaza. Hungry residents looted a market looking for food on Friday, while others pillaged trucks carrying food and supplies on the highway from Lima, the capital.
“The people have lost respect for the police, and that’s why the armed forces have been sent,” said Lt. Giancarlos Vernal while on patrol in Pisco. “At night, the thieves enter homes and take what they can.”
Responding to the earthquake is the first major test of the government of President Alan García, whose term began last year. Mr. García said Saturday that he was not ready to impose a curfew in the region but that he was prepared to “saturate” earthquake-affected areas with police forces if necessary.
Disorder spread from Pisco to other coastal cities, according to local news media reports, with much of the looting and armed robberies reported in Chincha Alta and Ica. The authorities attributed some of the crime to escaped prisoners from Tambo de Mora prison in Chincha Alta. Hundreds of prisoners escaped after one of the prison’s walls crumbled in the earthquake.
Meanwhile, aftershocks, including one that briefly shook high-rise buildings as far north as Lima on Friday night, kept many people in Peru on edge. And in Pisco on Saturday, there was a noticeable increase in the arrival of trucks carrying aid and tractors for clearing debris.
Despite temperatures that dipped into the low 50s in the desert night, many residents in Pisco slept outside their destroyed homes to protect their belongings from looters and scavengers.
“We’re in the street without food, without blankets,” said Margarita Quintanilla, 62, a street vendor who slept near her daughter and grandchildren in front of their crumbled home. Ms. Quintanilla said she was worried that her wares, electronic goods, might be irretrievable.
“Everything just fell down,” she said. “Now we have nothing.”
While desperation persisted in Pisco, Canal N, a Peruvian television network, broadcast news of a baby born late Friday in one of the city’s makeshift medical sites, amid the applause and shouts of “Viva!” by dozens of people. The baby, a boy, was named Rafael Jesus.
“After the fear that we all felt, I am happy,” Ericka Gutiérrez, the baby’s mother, told the network. President García went to the clinic to congratulate the parents, describing the baby as “handsome.”
Some reports said trucks carrying aid at the entrance to the city had been looted. And rumors spread that cholera and other diseases could emerge in the area. “The possibility of an epidemic is eliminated,” President García said in an attempt to quell such fears.
About 30,000 tents are needed in the region until homes are rebuilt, said Milo Stanojevich, the director in Peru for CARE, the international relief organization.
Mr. Stanojevich said about 80 percent of buildings in Pisco and 25 percent in Ica had collapsed, and that farther inland in Huancavelica, Peru’s poorest city, about 40 percent of homes had been destroyed and that residents there had no access to clean water.
Relief efforts were begun by foreign governments and aid groups, according to Agence France-Presse. Donor nations included the United States, Japan, Canada, Spain, Italy and France. Several of Peru’s neighbors were also mobilizing to send help.
The United Nations said that it was preparing to help, and the International Federation of the Red Cross said that it had sent two planes loaded with supplies.
Also, Bloomberg News reported that the European Commission had announced that it was increasing its aid package to 2 million euros, or about $2.7 million.
The European Union had previously pledged to send 1 million euros.