Humala Meets with Security Council to Review Quake Alerts

President Ollanta Humala on Thursday said that he would meet with his National Security Council in order to reinforce security in the event of a large earthquake, daily La Republica reported.

The decision to review ways to prepare for natural disaster and minimize the damage comes a few days after northern Chile was shaken by a large 8.2 magnitude quake that resulted in a tsunami warning along South America’s Pacific coast.

Six people were killed in that earthquake, including one Peruvian in Chile who was crushed by a wall that fell on him.  In Peru’s southern coast of Tacna and Moquegua, only minor injuries were reported by nine people.

Chile has continued to be hit by a number of powerful aftershocks following Tuesday’s quake. The largest aftershock occurred late Wednesday, when a 7.6 magnitude quake resulted in another tsunami warning in northern Chile and southern Peru.

President Humala has said that he will maintain contact with his Chilean counterpart, Michelle Bachelet, in order to lend support.

Earthquake drills have been standard practice in Peru for a number of years, particularly in schools and government institutions along the coast. However, there is no full alert system in place and there is a lack of public awareness of the need for preparedness.

In Lima this week, Mayor Susana Villaran said two tsunami drills will be held, particularly focused on the shoreline and the road along the Costa Verde, where signposts show exits towards high ground.  A drill will be held Saturday, April 26 along the 60km shoreline of South Lima, from Chorrillos to Pucusana, and another drill on May 3 will be specifically for the bay of Lima, the Costa Verde, which now handles heavy traffic between Chorrillos and San Miguel, and will eventually reach La Punta in Callao.

During the tsunami alert on Tuesday, Villaran stepped-up safety measures to be applied by each district municipal government along the road,  but got no response from the mayors of Chorrillos or La Punta, Augusto Miyashiro and Pio Salazar  —Chorrillos only closed the Costa Verde access after Villaran was forced to send metropolitan police and civil defense authorities to demand the closure because neither the mayor nor the district civil defense platform would take her calls; the mayor La Punta refused to sound an alert or call for an evacuation of the area on the grounds that “nothing’s going to happen.”

“There are many lessons we need to learn,” Villaran said. “First, it should be mandatory” to recognize the leadership in authority for emergencies, and secondly, “it is an issue of attitudes,” she said.  The mayor also called for greater involvement by radio, television and digital media in broadcasting civil defense alerts.

The executive president of  Peru’s Geophysical Institute, Ronald Woodman, also called for improving the communications systems for emergency alerts.

“We don’t yet have the technology to send out alerts of tsunamis to district and local authorities,”  Woodman said.  The Navy’s hydrographic and navegation office is the only institution with the technology.  We need to decide if it is the Navy or Civil Defense that issues the alerts.”

Carlos Zavala, director of the Japanese Center for Seismis Research and Mitigation of Disasters, Cismid, said that the center is working with the Ministry of Transport to begin implementing a mobile phone alert system.

The South American neighbors are located on a highly volatile earthquake zone. In 2010, more than 500 people were killed when an 8.8 magnitude earthquake hit Chile, resulting in a deadly tsunami. In 2007, about 200 people were killed in Peru’s Ica region during a magnitude 8.0 quake.

The most powerful earthquake in recorded history occurred in Chile in 1960. That quake had a 9.5 magnitude, and left about 6,000 people dead.

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