Friday, August 17, 2007
Cathedral collapsed on worshipping Peruvians
Police officers load empty children coffins at the Peruvian Air Force Airport in Pisco.
PISCO, Peru -- We took off for the epicenter of the earthquake zone in a transport plane loaded with empty baby-sized coffins. They were stacked all around two photographers and me, clacking against each other and sliding into our knees.

When we landed in Pisco, Peru, it became clear quickly why they needed so many. Tiny bodies lay beneath a black tarp in the parking lot of what used to be the hospital. Children barely alive wailed as they were carted out on stretchers, separated from parents, their tiny arms and legs wrapped in bandages and splinted with slats of wood.

The police escort us everywhere. My dad and granddad were police officers in Peru, so the officers watch over us like worried uncles. The walls of the prison collapsed, they tell me, and the inmates escaped, so it's dangerous here.

In the middle of correspondent Harris Whitbeck's live shot, a family removes a dead relative behind him and a coffin appears from nowhere. We move gently out of the way.

"Mi hijito," cries an old woman clutching a tiny blanket just outside the hospital and police officers help her sit.

"This isn't work for nice young ladies," says a policeman who claims to know my father. "Your father didn't leave here for you to come see this."

In the main square, San Clemente church collapsed atop the worshipers in the middle of a mass. Now, families line-up hoping for a miracle. But body after body is pulled from the pile of bricks. So far 49 bodies have been pulled out and just seven survivors, but authorities expect at least 100 dead in that one spot.

The city appears on the brink of collapse, second floors teetering atop empty spaces with just a door frame or pillar as support. People are dehydrated in the desert heat, their cheeks beet red from sunburn and exhaustion.

Pisco is named for the national liquor. The town is a place to come drink and de-stress, enjoy the latest catch of fish from the nearby sea. I've come here before for vacation, because the people are so friendly and fun. But on this visit, the people shudder from emotional aftershocks, even as destruction from the real aftershocks continues to take its toll.

-- By Rose Arce, CNN Producer
Posted By CNN: 2:49 PM ET
  12 Comments
My heart goes to all those people who lost some spouse, children or relative for that matter. It's a sad state right now, but nothing can stop from nature's calamity. Maybe god bless everybody.
Posted By Anonymous : 3:10 PM ET
Oh, what a story...I was waiting eagerly to hear about the people living in Peru and around , but hardly could find any reporting anywhere.....
Posted By Rupa. : 3:17 PM ET
Oh, what a story...I was waiting eagerly to hear about the people living in Peru and around , but hardly could find any reporting anywhere.....
Posted By Rupa. : 3:17 PM ET
It's sad that anybody died and sadder still to see such little coffins. Prayers for all of them and you because you're right there.
Posted By Carol B., Frederick, MD : 4:37 PM ET
It's sad that anybody died and sadder still to see such little coffins. Prayers for all of them and you because you're right there.
Posted By Carol B., Frederick, MD : 4:38 PM ET
Rose/AC360;
I realize that when reporting a horrible disaster story, a journalist/team goes on "auto pilot." The adrenal takes over and the amount of energy dispursed becomes part of the storytelling.

Keep on the story no matter who or what says you shouldn't be there. Of course, you need to be there. You are documenting a horrible event affecting thousands of people.

But also Rose, make sure you and your team take time to "re-group" afterwards. The deaths, mourning, and devastation happening in front of you may be in itself mind-numbing. But realize it will hit you...if not in a week, maybe a month or even a year later. Because it occurred in your own home, it will be even harder to process.

Keep safe.


A journalist who is recovering from PTSD after covering the destruction of Hurricane Katrina.
Posted By Anonymous : 4:47 PM ET
Rose,

To cover those stories must be extremely difficult.
It's hard to grasp the magnitude of such tragedies,especially when you are not on site.
But whenever children are taken too soon,it is a tragedy in itself.
My thoughts and prayors to all involved.
Joanne R.
Laval Quebec
Posted By Joanne R,.Laval QUebec : 6:51 PM ET
Rose,

Be careful as you cover this terrible tragedy. How awful to fly down there with coffins for babies and then to see the bodies under a tarp must have been even more terrible. I cannot even imagine the suffering that is going on down in the earthquake stricken zones.

From the coverage I have seen before this is a seismically active area. Are buildings being built to help withstand earthquakes or is the expensive too prohibitive or are these buildings so old that it was before these techniques became available?

Again, be careful and stay safe.
Posted By Annie Kate, Birmingham AL : 8:13 PM ET
It seems to be the most difficult when the little ones are taken. They should be looking forward to a long life . It is going to be a difficult few months for these people, but we will be able to follow their journey through your words and pictures. I will keep them in my thoughts and prayers.
Posted By Kathy Chicago,Il : 9:25 PM ET
My prayers are with the people of Peru. My family is in Lima and Ica, and I continue to pray and have faith that they are all alive and safe.
Posted By Sandi A, California : 1:42 AM ET
It's difficult to believe in any form of diety or higher power when such terrible tragedies occur; may God bless both those who keep the faith & those who question his judgement in the harsh light of reliaty.
Posted By Sarah Katherine : 11:39 AM ET
I am in California I have many relatives that lost their houses in Pisco. And a relative passed away, he was inside of this church. My relatives are in Lima now because Pisco is destroyed. My family will be traveling to help the people from Pisco in the next few days. I encourage everybody to donate even if its a little it can make a difference.
Posted By Carol : 3:51 PM ET
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