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Rescuers in Peru Struggle to Reach Trapped Quake Victims

  • VOA News

Rescue workers in Peru are struggling to reach hundreds of people trapped or stranded by a massive earthquake that killed at least 450 people near the country's Pacific coast.

Officials say the death toll from Wednesday's magnitude-eight (8.0) quake is likely to rise far higher, since searches of collapsed buildings are not yet complete.

Many large buildings suffered structural damage, including hospitals now overrun with victims in dire need of treatment. The quake's injury toll from the quake is now above 15-hundred.

Multiple casualties are feared in the town of Pisco, where a church roof collapsed during a crowded religious service. Wednesday was a Roman Catholic holy day (Assumption of the Blessed Virgin).

Quake damage crippled road access to Pisco and other port cities along Peru's central coast.

The two-minute-long initial jolt, centered inland, (145 kilometers) south of Lima ,the capital blacked out most of the country. Hundreds of inmates escaped from a prison in Chincha that collapsed.

President Alan Garcia has declared a state of emergency, and offers of assistance are flowing in from the United States, other Latin American nations, the International Red Cross and the United Nations.

Pope Benedict also has pledged his support, calling on churches and other Roman Catholic organizations to come to Peru's aid.

U.S. President George Bush sent his condolences to the Peruvian people. Bolivia, Colombia, Venezuela and the International Red Cross are launching relief efforts, and Colombian President Alvaro Uribe is expected to visit Peru in the coming days.

Separately, the US military says the hospital ship, Comfort, which recently visited Peru as part of a humanitarian tour, could return if authorities there request U.S. assistance. A Pentagon spokesman says the ship is currently docked at Manta, Ecuador.

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