On arrival in Pisco, Aug. 16, to set up a command post, Peruvian President Alan Garcia announced, “No one is going to die of hunger, that I can guarantee.” The day before, Peru’s worst earthquake in 37 years had leveled 80 percent of Pisco’s houses. Estimates five days after the earthquake hit are that over 500 people were killed and over 2,000 were wounded, also that 45,000 houses were destroyed and 250,000 damaged.

The Pan American Highway was rendered impassable in many locations, and according to observers, telephone, radio and television service was lost within two minutes on Aug. 15. A helicopter survey over a 200-mile swath across southern coastal Peru reported damage severe enough to suggest that the extent of suffering and death is not yet fully recognized.

In the aftermath, chaos ensued in the hardest hit cities together with advancing hunger and thirst. Trucks loaded with supplies proceeding along damaged highways have been attacked and storage warehouses and stores emptied out while police stood by. By Aug. 19, the government sent in 1,000 troops.

Observers reported huge amounts of supplies arriving from international donors, with 19 planes being unloaded simultaneously Aug. 18 at the Pisco airport.

Aftershocks have hampered relief efforts, yet, the main failing apparently relates to inadequate distribution of materials. Analysts see exaggerated reliance by the government on central bureaucracies, bypassing local administrative structures — to the extent that they exist. That local service facilities may be wanting is seen by the evacuation of 500 wounded from Pisco to hospitals in Lima, 150 miles away.

Cuba flew in two field hospitals staffed by 42 physicians, including generalists, surgeons, orthopedists, anesthesiologists, intensive care doctors and radiologists, along with nurses and technicians.

The Peruvian government has made $97 million available to relief, augmented by $2.7 million from the European Union. The U.S. government, through USAID, dispatched a mere $300,000.