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After deadly quake, Peru's coastal capital assesses risks

After deadly quake, Peru's coastal capital assesses risks

The magnitude-8 quake that struck Peru killed more than 500 people and destroyed 40,000 homes. But it would have been much, much worse had it struck just a little to the north, closer to the nation's capital.
Eight million people live in metropolitan Lima, many of them in poorly built adobe homes atop sandy soil _ just the sort of structures that collapsed in the small port city of Pisco and other communities near the epicenter.
The poor Barrios Altos neighborhood in central Lima is at particular risk. Adobe buildings there are built four- and five-stories-tall, housing sometimes 30 people. Upper floors are reinforced only with "quincha," thick reeds mixed with mud.
Evert Salazar, 53, has lived there for most of his life. The adobe building next to the small grocery where he works and lives collapsed in the Aug. 15 quake, although no one was killed.
"Where else would I go?" he asked. "The economic situation doesn't give us a chance of going somewhere else." His bedroom wall crumbled during the earthquake, and he was building another one with bricks.
Javier Pique, president of Peru's professional association of engineers, says the hundreds of adobe buildings in Barrios Altos and in Lima's historic downtown would be the first to collapse in a quake.
"The people there have little money and the buildings are already in bad shape," he said, adding that when adobe gets wet, it damages easily. Lima, unlike other desert capitals, is shrouded in a thick, damp mist during the Austral winter.
Lima is no stranger to strong earthquakes. The city was destroyed by a quake in 1687. A painting of Christ was all that remained of one Lima church, and every October thousands of faithful dressed in purple robes hold a procession, carrying a giant copy of the painting through the streets of Lima to celebrate the Senor de los Milagros, or the "Lord of Miracles," one of the capital's most important religious holidays.
In October 1746, the neighboring port of Callao was practically wiped off the map when a tsunami killed 4,000 people after a deadly quake, leaving only 200 survivors. In 1940, a magnitude 8.2-earthquake struck near the Lima coast, killing as many as 250 people. In 1974 a 7.6-magnitude quake shook Lima, killing almost 80 people.
Lima sits on the seismically active Pacific Rim, and many of its shantytowns were constructed on sandy slopes outside the city.
Soil in many areas of the capital is strong, experts say, but the overcrowded shantytowns that spring up virtually overnight are on very shaky ground, and a strong quake would send thousands of reed huts tumbling down the hills.
According to government figures, almost a quarter of the capital's population lives in poverty. Many build homes quickly, avoiding bureaucratic license applications, fees and inspections.
Some estimates say more than 60 percent of the buildings in Lima and Callao are constructed without required municipal approval, very different from tight restrictions in other earthquake-prone capitals like Tokyo.
Buildings were only required to be anti-seismic here following a devastating 1970 earthquake that killed nearly 70,000 people in the mountainous Huaraz region 180 miles (285 kms) north of Lima.
A bill on the floor in Congress proposes automatic licenses for the construction of some buildings with a maximum of five stories to speed up the building process.
Architect Augusto Otriz de Zevallos calls Lima's colorful adobe buildings _ some more than 150 years old _ "death traps."
"Building something well tends to cost more," he said. "A magnitude-7 earthquake would have been terrible. Lima got lucky."


Updated : 2021-04-15 00:55 GMT+08:00