Friday, August 17, 2007

Earthquake meant tense night for local Peruvians

Temblor in South America leaves hundreds dead

Express Staff Writer

Jesus Francia, serves-up coffee at Java on fourth in Ketchum. Francia, originally from Peru, was having trouble reaching his family in Lima after Wednesday night?s massive, deadly earthquake Photo by David N. Seelig

Jesus Francia sat bleary-eyed in front of the Java on Fourth café in Ketchum on Thursday morning. He had spent a mostly sleepless night trying to contact relatives in his earthquake-ravaged homeland or fielding calls from Peruvian friends worried about their relatives.

An 8.0 magnitude earthquake hit the central coast of Peru at about 6:40 p.m. Mountain Standard Time (Peru is in the same time zone as Idaho) Wednesday, killing at least 437 people and injuring at least 1,500. The death toll was expected to rise, The Associated Press reported.

The quake was centered off Peru's Pacific coast about 90 miles south of the capital city of Lima. The cities of Pisco and Ica, about 135 miles south of Lima on the coast, were hit particularly hard. Seventy percent of Ica was destroyed.

"It was terrible, man," said a visibly tired Francia, just after 8 a.m. when he came to work at Java, where he is the manager. Francia, 30, said he heard about the quake when watching TV news at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday night, about 50 minutes after the quake struck. As of midday Thursday, he had not been able to contact his family in Lima.

"I never talked to my mom or family about it," Francia said.

"Yeah, yeah, yeah," he responded when asked if he was concerned.

Francia has lived in the Wood River Valley for eight years after following his sister here. He estimated there are about 200 Peruvians living in the valley. He was only able to get a few hours sleep Wednesday night because of the many concerned calls between himself and his Peruvian friends in the valley.

"I talked to a lot of friends here and they can't communicate with their families," Francia said. "A lot of my friends called me almost all night. 'Do you know something?' they asked."

"I don't know yet, I don't know yet," he told them.

But some Peruvian transplants to the valley were luckier.

"My family is OK even though they live really close to the ocean," said Fabianna Ancajima, an advertising sales representative with the Idaho Mountain Express.

Ancajima, 26, is originally from Lima and her mother, a brother and two sisters live there. Ancajima received a cell phone text message from her mother about 10:30 p.m. Wednesday.

"My mom sent me a message saying she was OK," she said.

Her mother stated that the quake was felt "really, really hard" in Lima and it lasted about two minutes.

The Andean country on the west coast of South America is earthquake prone. One of the worst earthquakes in history struck there in 1970, killing an estimated 66,000 people.

Rescue workers were pulling the injured and dead from the rumble on Thursday. The city of Pisco, population 60,000, was leveled, the New York Times reported.

"So much of our city is destroyed," said Mayor Juan Mendoza Uribe, in an interview with Lima radio station RPP, the Times reported.

The mayor could be heard crying during the interview. Hundreds of people were sleeping in city streets, the Times reported.

Another hard-hit area was the city of Chincha, where hospitals were packed with the injured, the New York Times reported. In Pisco, some 300 people were trapped inside after a church collapsed while a Mass was going on.

Francia said he will continue to try to call Lima, where his parents, brother, sister and niece live.

"Maybe today (Thursday) after we call the family we'll see what's going on," he said, with obvious exasperation.

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