Peru (MNN/IMB) — A Baptist disaster assessment team in Peru encountered the kind of lawlessness reported in areas hardest hit by the 8.0 earthquake Aug. 15 which has claimed more than 500 lives.
According to the Southern Baptist International Mission Board, missionary Kevin Shearer and his team were on their way to assess earthquake damage over the weekend 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.
Around 4 p.m. when the assessment team arrived in Ica, one of the hardest-hit towns, 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.
Missionary Wayne Brinkley said, "There are still a lot of bodies that are 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 were the panicked screams of Ica residents as two tremors shook their already-devastated hometown.
Brinkley says, "The people are so traumatized. It wasn't that things fell 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 says, "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 share their faith. Pray also for the team's continued safety amid aftershocks and looting.