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Peru earthquake: Thousands lost homes

PISCO Peru — Eleazar Sihuas Hernandez will tell you hes a blessed man.
He wont say his life is easy. And its impossible to wander about the fractured walls that frame this affable branch presidents home and call him lucky. But Eleazar Sihuas Hernandez will tell you hes a blessed man.
Thanks to God no one in our branch lost their lives said President Sihuas who presides over the Grocio Prado Branch Chincha Peru District. Now there is a little more calm … and we are all eating.
Photo by Jason SwensenRelief Society sisters from the Grocio Prado Branch prepare soup for their quake-striken neighbors using food provided by the Church.
Indeed such basic blessings are considered priceless here in southwest Peru where hundreds died in an Aug. 15 magnitude-8 earthquake. Meanwhile a decent meal or a water-tight roof remain uncertain luxuries for thousands of others as survivors search and sometimes beg for food and provisions.
The massive quake that struck the coastal and inland communities of Pisco Ica and Chincha will be spoken of for decades. Here multi-storied hotels and historic cathedrals became massive piles of brick and adobe in a matter of seconds. Sections of the famed Pan American Highway were fractured and ground into dirt roads. Power lines were tipped and toppled.
And families living near the Pacific Ocean endured the double-fisted horror of the temblors lethal shaking — followed by hysteric rumors that a sister tsunami would follow. Thankfully the tidal wave never occurred. But multiple aftershocks served as unwanted dangerous reminders of this regions seismic temperament.
Grieving members
LDS Peruvians will long mourn for those lost. Counted among the some 540 killed in the quake were nine members. Their numbers included children a young mother and a 16-year-old young woman who was practicing a local folkloric dance inside an arts academy when the quake arrived.
This experience has been incredible said South America West Area President Walter F. Gonzalez.
Rapid assistance
Moments after the ground stopped rumbling the Church was in motion helping victimized members and their neighbors.
Pisco resident passes through a destroyed section of downtown Pisco. The dust from the fallen buildings and clean-up efforts blanket the street.
For some assistance came in grim form. Pisco Ward Bishop Carlos Comena Guzman was among those who tried to dig out an LDS mother and her two children from under a pile of rubble. Sadly Bishop Comenas ward lost a total of five members to the earthquake.
Ica Peru Stake President Juan Tejada Hinojoza said the full-time missionaries serving in his stake offered invaluable assistance in the initial clean-up and salvaging efforts following the earthquake. The missionaries have since been reassigned to less-impacted areas of the country.
As in other neighboring Church units the line between victim and servant is often non-existent in this stake where 84 member homes were destroyed. President Tejada said members have accepted the help of their fellow brothers and sisters then often assisted someone else in need.
We serve one another said President Tejada who is grieving the loss of one member from his stake.
Using fast offerings and other resources the South America West Area presidency and other local leaders provided food water tarps portable toilets and other essential items. In some impacted areas local priesthood leaders would travel daily to the local stake or district headquarters to pick up a ration of food for the needy members of the congregations. The preparation of the fresh food allowed homeless members to socialize and serve together.
Many of the homes in President Sihuas branch are habitable. Some are nothing but a memory dust and rubble. Still the Relief Society sisters there recently greeted friends and visitors with a smile as they chopped up chickens and vegetables to be used in a communal soup. Despite their own dire circumstances the Grocio Prado members were eager to share their food prayers and muscle to help one another.
Several miles south of Grocio Prado the grounds of the La Villa meetinghouse outside downtown Pisco are doubling as a tent city for 184 people. Most are members. Some are not. All are among Perus new homeless. Living with his family in one of the Church-provided tents is Bishop Edgar Sanchez of the Esperanza Ward Pisco Peru Stake. He is grateful for the many diversions offered at the meetinghouse to distract his thoughts from the horrors of recent days.
Photo by Jason Swensenphoto by Jason Swensencourtesy South America West Areaphoto by Jason Swensenphotos by Jason Swensenphoto by Jason SwensenChurch-sponsored relief shipment arrives at Peruvian air base near Pisco.
Indeed the La Villa tent community is far more than a traditional refugee camp. Here worship recreation and service fill the hours keep hands busy and ease troubled minds. Each morning begins with prayer and seminary classes for the young people. Older folks help with the daily meals prepared in the meetinghouse kitchen. Gospel instruction is held daily and residents join in with regular service projects. Evening hours are spent with families playing games and watching LDS videos.
Reymundo Saiiago second counselor in the Pisco Peru Stake is simply thankful to be among his fellow members. But the dark memories of what he had seen over the past many days has left his eyes sad and fatigued. In the first hours following the quake it was hard to find the members — some are still missing. President Saiiago admits his own future is unclear. His wife wants to move to Lima or perhaps the United States.
Humanitarian aid
Assistance from the Church knew no border. A Church-sponsored 747 jet was filled with some 80 tons of humanitarian provisions in Salt Lake City and flown to a Peruvian Air Force base outside of Pisco. Included in the massive shipment were food boxes filled with rice beans tuna and other food items. Also delivered were pallets loaded with baby formula hygiene kits medicine and surgical supplies according to Richard Long manager of Bishops Central Storehouse. Brother Long and fellow worker Dan Wilson escorted the shipment from Church headquarters.
Photo courtesy South America West AreaThe deadly magnitude-8 earthquake that rattled much of southwest Peru killed hundreds and forced thousands of others to seek refuge from the frigid nights under makeshift tents such as these at a local meetinghouse.
The provisions are expected to bless and better the lives of both members and folks who dont belong to the Church in this quake-weary region.
Church aid to Peru also arrived in spiritual form. At the same moment the Churchs cargo plane was touching down near Pisco Elder Russell M. Nelson of the Quorum of the Twelve was in Lima offering instruction to the nations priesthood leaders. The next day Elder Nelson spoke to Church members reassuring them that assistance to damaged areas would be long-term. (Please see story at right.)
The organization of the Church has functioned as it should said Elder Gonzalez marveling at the strength and big hearts of the Peruvian people.
Long-term recovery
For now LDS Peruvians in quake-damaged areas are well-fed and sheltered.
But this is not something that ends in a week or in a month Elder Gonzalez said. Already priesthood leaders at all levels are preparing for the long-term recovery. Much must happen before the LDS victims and many of their fellow Peruvians in the quake areas can again enjoy a normal life.
Photo by Jason SwensenJesus Saravia Magallanes an elders quorum president from the Grocio Prado Branch surveys the spartan living arrangements of fellow branch members who have lost their homes following the massive Aug. 15 earthquake.
The area presidency is focusing on a three-tiered plan to help LDS victims rebuild their lives: First there will be efforts to reconstruct homes. Members will be counseled to first enlist personal and community resources as they begin the rebuilding process. Second health education will be instituted to help people stay strong and free from illness. And third employment assistance will be provided. Few people in the impacted areas are working. Jobs will need to be found and filled so members can again enjoy self-reliance and independence.
Divine assistance
President Sihuas said divine assistance is found amid the desperation. Just days after the earthquake members of his branch gathered at their tiny meetinghouse for sacrament meeting. They were tired and dusty. Some people arrived with a cast on one of their legs. Others with cuts on their faces and arms.
But the spirit was very strong the branch president said. Everyone wants to begin again.
Photo by Jason SwensenMembers have found refuge in tents at Piscos La Villa meetinghouse. The residents pass the day with gospel study and community service.

Photo by Jason SwensenEleazar Sihuas Hernandez a branch president serving in the Grocio Prado community of Peru stands outside his severely damaged home with his injured niece Rosa Atuncar Saravia. Like thousands of other LDS Peruvians the Grocio Prado members are enduring through prayer service and unity.
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