Page last updated at 03:59 GMT, Saturday, 18 August 2007 04:59 UK

Calm urged for Peru quake victims

Rescue workers recover a body in Pisco
Bodies are still being discovered, as the search for survivors continues

Peru's leaders have called for calm amid reports of desperate crowds looting aid trucks and fighting over food after Wednesday's huge earthquake.

The authorities are struggling to get supplies to the hardest hit areas, but President Alan Garcia insisted: "Nobody is going to die of hunger or thirst."

Powerful aftershocks continue to hit the region, causing widespread panic.

At least 500 people were killed when the quake wrecked parts of Peru's central coast, south of Lima.

The worst damage from the main earthquake was in the coastal cities of Ica and Pisco, the centre of which was largely destroyed.

Many residents have been frustrated by the speed at which aid has been arriving. On the outskirts of Pisco on Friday crowds blocked a main road and looted aid trucks.

There were also reports of a market being ransacked and pharmacies looted, and fighting in food queues.

'Exaggerated desperation'

Local aid workers have complained of the difficulties of getting supplies to the hardest-hit villages - some of which are very remote and have not been contacted since the quake struck.

I never experienced such a long and strong earthquake in Peru, it felt like it would never end
Marcia, Lima

However, President Garcia predicted "a situation approaching normality" would be restored within 10 days, and said there was no need to "fall into exaggerated desperation".

The president toured the area, promising food and water to the tens of thousands who lost their homes and loved ones.

The search for survivors is continuing in many areas, and international rescue teams have begun to arrive in Pisco.

One small team from Spain arrived with dogs trained to sniff out live bodies buried in the rubble, AFP news agency reported.

Prison break

Distressed residents of Pisco have been burying their dead in aluminium coffins handed out by the army.

Some 200 bodies were lowered into shallow graves in the city's graveyard on Friday.

A bereaved family mourns in Pisco graveyard

In the nearby city of Chincha, about 700 inmates of the local prison escaped when the quake wrecked the building.

Mirta Espinos, who husband escaped but later handed himself in, said the prisoners had to flee to save their lives.

"They weren't all just going to die inside," she told the Associated Press.

More than 500 prisoners are still on the run, officials say.

Meanwhile, an international humanitarian relief effort has been mobilised.

Countries across Latin America - including Ecuador, Bolivia, Brazil, Mexico, Venezuela, Colombia and Chile - have sent relief supplies.

The US, Canada, Spain, Italy and France have also promised to help.

The earthquake happened in one of the most seismically active regions of the world.

In 1970, a 7.9-magnitude earthquake high in the Peruvian Andes triggered a landslide that buried the town of Yungay and killed 66,000 people.

Map of affected area
Earthquake struck on Wednesday at 1841 local time
The 8.0-magnitude earthquake was centred just off the coast of Peru
Two tectonic plates clash at this region, the Nazca plate and the South American plate
There is about 7-8cm (3in) movement between the plates a year

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video and audio news
The ruins of a church badly damaged in the tremor

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17 Aug 07 |  Technology
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16 Aug 07 |  In Pictures
Peru quake: Eyewitness accounts
16 Aug 07 |  Have Your Say
Country profile: Peru
12 May 07 |  Country profiles
How earthquakes happen
01 Jun 09 |  Science & Environment

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