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The quake escape

by Staff Writers
Tambo De Mora, Peru (AFP) Aug 17, 2007
As Peru's powerful earthquake brought down their prison's walls and lights, 66 guards could only watch helplessly while nearly 700 inmates escaped into the night.

The Chincha Prison, located in the town of Tambo de Mora, held many hardened criminals, including rapists, kidnappers and drug dealers, when its doors and walls were forced open by the 8.0-magnitude earthquake that devastated the south coast on Wednesday.

As a special police force scoured the region for the fugitives, Captain Alberto Lindemberg Salazar defended the guards' actions during that harrowing night when the prison was nearly emptied in just 15 minutes.

"It was chaos," he told AFP.

The inmates feared for their lives as water from the nearby Pacific Ocean -- just 180 meters from the prison -- shot up from cracks in the floors of their cells and quickly began flooding them.

"A tsunami is coming!" prisoners shouted as the water nearly reached their necks, Lindemberg said. "Naturally, the prisoners feared for their lives."

Soon after, cell walls collapsed, fencing surrounding the prison split open in several sections and the 3.5 meter outer, brick walls fell horizontally, giving prisoners an easy escape route.

"We could not take radical measures to stop them from escaping because there was no light," he said.

"The only thing we could do was fire warning shots in the air," Lindemberg said, adding that the guards' decision that evening was made in the name of "human rights."

As the prisoners fled, they blended in with workers from a nearby fish processing plant who were also fleeing the water and tremors, the captain said.

"It was something out of our control that lasted 10 to 15 minutes," he said.

Lindemberg denied rumors of fatalities but admitted there were a few injuries among the prisoners and guards, including one who was inside his guard tower when it fell to the ground.

A special police force was deployed to hunt down the fugitives, dead or alive. Nearly 60 of the 683 fugitives have been captured, authorities said, while some have also reportedly given themselves up to avoid harsher sentences.

But a few Chincha Prison inmates chose not to flee that horrific night, preferring to test their luck with nature rather than the law.

There were scores of inmates in the prison on Friday, but they will all be transferred to new jails in the next few days as the cells have been declared "uninhabitable," Lindemberg said.

A few relatives visited the prison recently to claim the belongings of those who were transferred to other jails.

Ana Miriam Martin's husband, jailed for robbery, preferred to risk his life and serve out the seven remaining months of his term rather than "live in hiding."

The 32-year-old woman recalled the fear that overcame her the day of the earthquake, thinking her husband would become one of the 500 people killed by the disaster.

"I was thinking, 'I hope he escapes.'"

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UN leads world help for quake-ravaged Peru
New York (AFP) Aug 16, 2007
The UN pledged one million dollars (750,000 euros) of relief for Peru on Thursday as governments and aid agencies around the world rushed to help the quake-ravaged South American nation.

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