Peru earthquake: Strong quake hits, damaging buildings and displacing thousands

LIMA, Peru — Peruvian President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski has issued a public apology and offered support for those affected by a strong earthquake Friday that triggered landslides and caused hundreds of residents to flee their homes, but no deaths were reported.

A magnitude 7.5 quake hit around 9:30 a.m. on Friday morning, the U.S. Geological Survey said. It was centered about 70 miles (110 kilometers) west of Arequipa, a town of 125,000 in central Peru. Residents were ordered to evacuate their homes for shelter.

Damage in Arequipa was particularly severe. Families spent the night on the streets, streets choked with rubble, with many buildings damaged or collapsed.

“We are here for the help of the people and those in need,” a visibly shaken Kuczynski said at a news conference. “I ask God to give us the ability to help the vulnerable ones. This will be done in a unified manner.”

Arequipa officials said the quake left at least 4,700 people in temporary shelters. Civil Defense Director Gustavo Mejia said communication was compromised by the quake, and that six cell towers and 13 land lines went down, making it difficult to quickly assess the damage.

#Umapet3 : 73 km S of #Arequipa and the epicenter of the quake 25 km W of Quilmes. — Seismology Peru N.A. (@seismologyPeru) May 5, 2017

Government spokesperson Marcela Bizzi called on residents to stay calm.

“There are rumors the police have disappeared and their whereabouts are unknown,” she said. “We would like the population to understand how it can help recover properties.”

There have been no reports of casualties.

Bizuayehu Tesfamariam, director of Peru’s civil defense institute, said that hundreds of people had been displaced from their homes by the quake and that officials were providing medical aid, food and water. Local media said more than 60 homes in Arequipa had collapsed.

Kuczynski had been at the Summit of the Americas in Lima when the quake struck.

“I am very concerned and keep telling people to remain calm,” Kuczynski tweeted, asking residents to evacuate buildings if they are not able to remain fixed.

Local television reports said parts of the hillside, including the one above Arequipa’s main square, collapsed. One of the official’s closest local residences to the quake was crushed by landslides but no one was inside.

There have been some initial reports of people being injured due to the quake, particularly those with respiratory problems, the International Red Cross said.

Kuczynski, a former Wall Street banker, won the presidency in early 2016 in an upset victory over former Prime Minister Keiko Fujimori. Although he spent only a month in office, his political capital has been growing and his party was able to win 40 of the 131 congressional seats in elections in March.

Fujimori was elected to a five-year term as president of the country in 2011 but was defeated in her bid for a second term in 2015.

According to the USGS, this was the strongest earthquake to strike Peru since August 7, 1985, when a magnitude 8.0 quake struck eastern Peru and killed 9,000 people. The last large earthquake to hit the country was magnitude 8.2 on Sept. 30, 2010.

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