Peru earthquake miracle as survivors pulled from church amid devastation
At least seven people were found alive as rescuers pulled dozens of dead victims from the ruins of a church that collapsed on worshippers during the Peruvian earthquake, relief workers said yesterday.
Witnesses said that the spire bells clanged wildly before the picturesque 18th-century Church of San Clemente in Pisco caved in on Wednesday. The collapse came as more than 200 people celebrated the Feast of the Assumption marking the Virgin Mary's ascent to heaven.
So far, at least 60 bodies have been recovered from the rubble of the church, which was believed to be the single deadliest spot in the earthquake that measured 8 on the Richter scale and killed more than 500 people in the central coastal region of Peru.
Father Liam Carey, an Irish Catholic missionary who was in the fishing port at the time, described the earthquake. "We were just driving into Pisco, right in the centre, looking for where we were going to be staying for the night.
"We had just driven into the car park. The lights just banged out. The car just started jumping all over the place. Walls started falling all around us. People just beside us were hanging on to an electricity pole."
"It lasted two-and-a-half minutes, but it seemed like an eternity. I knew we were at the centre of it when it was happening because I have felt earthquakes before. People were shouting in doorways for their loved ones, pulling back rubble, looking for loved ones," he said, adding: "It was just devastating, horrible."
The missionary described the Church of San Clemente as in ruins. "We saw one wing of it out in the road. The whole cupola of the church was down," he said. Father Carey and an Irish couple he was travelling with decided to leave as soon as they could. It took them 12 hours driving the 125 miles to the capital Lima -- usually a three-hour trip.
An Oxfam relief worker in Pisco reported that firemen were laying out corpses -- including those recovered from the church -- in a public park to conduct a body count. "There were 80 people in the park," said Celia Aldana, who is helping to co-ordinate Oxfam's efforts from Lima.
Some angry residents, frustrated at the pace of the rescue effort, berated firemen for not working faster. Others, claiming they could hear cries from beneath the rubble, began digging themselves but were discouraged by rescue workers who said they might endanger possible survivors.