I am writing tonight to all the good friends and family who have called and emailed to find out how I am and who have helped during this crisis. It is only an hour since my email got re-established and I have been longing to contact you, thank you, and give you news from the little village of Humay, which was just about at the epicenter of the earthquake.
We are 45 kilometers in from the coastal city of Pisco, which is now 80 percent flattened, with so many people buried under its ruins that you need a mask to enter the city as the smell of the corpses is unbearable. The part of the city on the ocean where I had my apartment for the first two years I was here was pretty well washed away. The few people remaining in the city are all living on what remains of the sidewalks and streets with whatever belongings they have been able to drag out of the ruins.
The city of Chincha, about as far inland as Humay but about 45 kilometers north of us has more buildings standing if you look from the outside, but the insides are almost all completely in ruin, with buried inhabitants still waiting to be found.. The few houses that are habitable are subject to attack by gangs of roving bandits, as are the people sleeping in the streets. My right hand man lives in Chincha and is one of the few who has a solid house. 14 members of his family are huddled inside sleeping on the floor, while he spends the night on the roof with an assortment of arms and ammunition, shooting at the looters who try to enter.
In Humay hardly a house is intact. Most are in ruins or unstable, and as in Chincha, people are afraid to sleep indoors even if the house looks sort of okay, because they are terrified that even a small aftershock (and we have had both small and large aftershocks every day up to yesterday) will cause walls and adobes to fall down on them, so everyone is sleeping outdoors. By a miracle, no one died in Humay, but everywhere the children and many adults are sick with horrible bronchitis, fevers, etc. It’s down in the low forties at night, and drizzling. Most people have managed some kind of overhead shelter, but that does not maintain health for any but the fittest…..
As for me: I was in the living room with a gorgeous fire going and a good book, waiting for my dinner, when my cook came screaming out of the kitchen, the lights went out, and something fell down from the ceiling near the fireplace. I could still see because of the light from the fireplace and because I have an emergency light plugged in the wall that goes on automatically if the electricity fails. The cook was pulling at my arm and screaming hysterically and I thought something had happened to her in the kitchen. She was howling about being saved and trying to get me to get up off the sofa and to the door to the lawn. I absolutely couldn’t understand what she wanted, but to humor her I finally got up. The door wouldn’t open, and then things began falling on my head and the house was rocking and shaking wildly. There is a huge window next to the door, and we smashed through the screen and pushed the window out while big adobes kept crashing down around and on us. Finally we got out the window and away from the house and sat in the middle of the lawn where the cook’s terrified and howling children and her husband came to join us and the earth continued to act as if we were totally insignificant insects on her majestic surface. Through the windows the fire continued to burn brilliantly in the fireplace.
It really did seem possible that the earth would open and swallow us. I kept trying to make light of it to the children and the cook, but even after the shaking stopped they were inconsolable. I had the husband (my driver) bring the car around and got the children into it and we moved down the property away from the house. I felt it was a good idea to use the lights from the car as it was a very black night. Unfortunately the shadows on the ground kept appearing like cracks in the earth to the children and their hysterics were very hard to control. Eventually things got quieter and I suggested that we all sleep in my car (a 7
passenger van) pointed at the gate so that if it became appropriate to leave we could do it rapidly. They all refused and took blankets and slept outside – if you could call it sleeping. I grabbed some blankets and stayed in the car with the dogs. After trying to soothe everyone else, I sat there shaking and trying to think wise thoughts until morning, but it was definitely the longest night of my life. I never shut my eyes and kept watching the spot where I knew the sun would come up. When it finally did, I was surprised to find myself full of joy at being alive, and singing every hymn of praise to God I ever learned, for granting me another day in which to live and work and love you.
Because the village of Humay is small (about 700 people in the center) they were able to organize themselves better than the cities of Chincha, Pisco, and Ica, into groups around a ‘common pot,’ who all cook together and sleep in a common area, such as the stadium or a certain field. This makes the food supplies go further, provides a safety net and social support, and makes the delivery of relief services relatively easy. Humay is also a ‘district’ made up of other small villages which have also organized themselves along similar lines.
After a day the problems that set in were lack of electricity which made the nights difficult, the cold, and the horrible decisions made by shop-owners who to refused to sell food, hoping to jack up prices later. Also in some areas water pipes broke during the earthquake and people began getting their water from irrigations ditches. Panic set in.
The main road from Lima had opened up in places making deliveries from Lima in the north almost impossible, and when trucks did come, the people in Chincha and San Clemente, just above us, stopped them and stole everything from them if they could, so almost nothing got through to Humay and other little needy communities beyond.. The police were helpless against the organized thieves combined with the desperate populations who were stealing out of fear of starvation. It was ghastly.
With the help of my best friend in Lima, Gustavo, I bought a truckload of rice, milk, beans, sugar, cereal. canned fish, crackers, and had it sent down. The men who work in my fields met the truck en route before it got into trouble. Some were in my own truck from the fields and some in my pickup truck. Each man was armed with a stout long pole, With the pickup truck in the lead and the bigger truck behind, they escorted the delivery truck to Humay, making it clear that anyone who tried to interfere with the delivery would have a lot of angry men and a lot of thick poles to contend with. The truck got through and we were able to distribute food to 13 different ‘common pots.’ I have another truckload coming down Friday the 24th.
Various international organizations are sending trucks down now, and more are getting through, so the panic is abating, although fruit and meat don’t exist.. I’m sad to say that no aid seems to be from the United States. Two groups of angels have dropped from the sky into our village however. The first are a group of volunteer firemen from Spain. Their mission is actually to provide clean drinking water when needed and they have already installed a new water purification plant for 3,500 people here in Humay. They have, in the two days they’ve been here, begun training 4 of our people in its maintenance. They have also brought a doctor, and for once, medicines. (We often get doctors volunteers who see patients and cheerfully prescribe what’s needed to people who in a million years couldn’t afford the prescriptions). They are donating 15 gorgeous tents the size of houses for the families I think are in the greatest need (for example, those with infants) and very likely will be sending help with engineers and money for some reconstruction. Their patron saint is the wife of the president of Spain. How we were lucky enough to attract them to Humay, I’ll never know. All 16 of them are now staying at our house, cooking and laughing around the
kitchen table, making all kinds of plans, and being a general delight. They all just told me that they are arranging for yet another truckload of food to come down on Saturday. Imagine!
The money that some of you were able to send to the Foundation will be going for many purposes, but the water project is a very important one. This purified water needs to be delivered to people outside the very small area served by ancient pipes of Humay – only used by about 150 or 200 families. We need to purchase about 15 expensive 1,500 litre elevated tanks for a great number of outlying other areas that make up greater Humay, and we need to buy a little tank/truck with a pump in which we can deliver this water. Almost every child here has intestinal parasites sapping his nutrition and lowering his intelligence.
We also need to begin to insist that every house have some sanitary facility. Most of them here have nothing! This is a very costly project.
The second group of angels is Doctors Without Borders. They are a world wide organization, based in France. Anywhere in the world where there is trouble, their first-class doctors travel to provide free medical service and medicine to whomever needs it. They have just arrived in Humay for a stay of a month or two. I have been able to offer them two houses in our grape fields. Not only will they be treating people, but we will be organizing a group of talks about preventive medicine, feminine health, child health, and many issues that never get treated here. For instance, almost every woman has urinary tract infections which are completely preventable, as well as ‘female complaints.’ Babies regularly have raging fevers and diarrea. Conversations about avoiding the most common ailments, and treating others will be absolutely invaluable. The Foundation will be making available printed material as needed, as well as a locale for ongoing groups on these subjects and others. Your donations will help me buy a quantity of the most needed medicines for those who cannot afford them – which is just about everyone. I can buy just about any medicine here without a prescription.
I’ll need to buy incredible quantities of soap. Hand soap, laundry soap. And small tubs to stand in and wash yourself for people who don’t have houses any more. And rolls and rolls of vinyl sheeting to line the straw matting that everyone is using to construct temporary housing until regular housing can be rebuilt. And so thank you, thank you, thank you, for everything from kind thoughts and caring to the money that makes it possible for me to stretch my own money and accomplish a lot for these little communities
Good night for now.