JAPAN is still reeling from the earthquakeand tsunami that struck its north-east coast on March 11th, with the government struggling to contain a nuclear disaster and around 10,000 people still unaccounted for.

Provisional  estimates released today by the World Bank put the economic damage resulting from the disaster at as much as $235 billion, around 4% of GDP. That figure would make this disaster the costliest since comparable records began in 1965.

The Indian Ocean tsunami in 2004, which caused some 250,000 deaths, does not feature on this chart. Economic losses there amounted to only $14 billion in today’s prices, partly because of low property and land values in the affected areas.


By The Economist online, March 21, 2011

It’s only a matter of time—in fact, they’ve already started cropping up—before reality-challenged individuals begin pontificating about what God could have possibly been so hot-and-bothered about to trigger last week’s devastating earthquake and tsunami in Japan. (Surely, if we were to ask Westboro Baptist Church members, it must have something to do with the gays.) But from a psychological perspective, what type of mind does it take to see unexpected natural events such as the horrifying scenes still unfolding in Japan as “signs” or “omens” related to human behaviors?

In the summer of 2005, my University of Arkansas colleague Becky Parker and I began the first experimental study to investigate the psychology underlying this strange phenomenon. In this experiment, published the following year in Developmental Psychology, we invited a group of three- to nine-year-old children into our lab and told them they were about to play a fun guessing game. It was a simple game in which each child was tested individually. The child was asked to go to the corner of the room and to cover his or her eyes before coming back and guessing which of two large boxes contained a hidden ball. All the child had to do was place a hand on the box that he or she believed contained the ball. A short time was allowed for the decision to be made but, importantly, during that time the children were allowed to change their mind at any time by moving their hand to the other box. The final answer on each of the four trials was reflected simply by where the child’s hand was when the experimenter said, “Time’s up!” Children who guessed right won a sticker prize.

In reality, the game was a little more complicated than this. There were secretly two balls, one in each box, and we had decided in advance whether the children were going to get it “right” or “wrong” on each of the four guessing trials. At the conclusion of each trial, the child was shown the contents of only one of the boxes. The other box remained closed. For example, for “wrong” guesses, only the unselected box was opened, and the child was told to look inside (“Aw, too bad. The ball was in the other box this time. See?”). Children who had been randomly assigned to the control condition were told that they had been successful on a random two of the four trials. Children assigned to the experimental condition received some additional information before starting the game. These children were told that there was a friendly magic princess in the room, “Princess Alice,” who had made herself invisible. We showed them a picture of Princess Alice hanging against the door inside the room (one that looked remarkably like Barbie), and we gave them the following information: “Princess Alice really likes you, and she’s going to help you play this game. She’s going to tell you, somehow, when you pick the wrong box.” We repeated this information right before each of the four trials, in case the children had forgotten.

For every child in the study, whether assigned to the standard control condition (“No Princess Alice”) or to the experimental condition (“Princess Alice”), we engineered the room such that a spontaneous and unexpected event would occur just as the child placed a hand on one of the boxes. For example, in one case, the picture of Princess Alice came crashing to the floor as soon as the child made a decision, and in another case a table lamp flickered on and off. (We didn’t have to consult with Industrial Light & Magic to rig these surprise events; we just arranged for an undergraduate student to lift a magnet on the other side of the door to make the picture fall, and we hid a remote control for the table lamp surreptitiously in the experimenter’s pocket.) The predictions were clear: if the children in the experimental condition interpreted the picture falling and the light flashing as a sign from Princess Alice that they had chosen the wrong box, they would move their hand to the other box.

What we found was rather surprising, even to us. Only the oldest children, the seven- to nine-year-olds, from the experimental (Princess Alice) condition, moved their hands to the other box in response to the unexpected events. By contrast, their same-aged peers from the control condition failed to move their hands. This finding told us that the explicit concept of a specific supernatural agent—likely acquired from and reinforced by cultural sources—is needed for people to see communicative messages in natural events. In other words, children, at least, don’t automatically infer meaning in natural events without first being primed somehow with the idea of an identifiable supernatural agent such as Princess Alice (or God, one’s dead mother, angels, etc.).

More curious, though, was the fact that the slightly younger children in the study, even those who had been told about Princess Alice, apparently failed to see any communicative message in the light-flashing or picture-falling events. These children kept their hands just where they were. When we asked them later why these things happened, these five- and six-year-olds said that Princess Alice had caused them, but they saw her as simply an eccentric, invisible woman running around the room knocking pictures off the wall and causing the lights to flicker. To them, Princess Alice was like a mischievous poltergeist with attention deficit disorder: she did things because she wanted to, and that’s that. One of these children answered that Princess Alice had knocked the picture off the wall because she thought it looked better on the ground. In other words, they completely failed to see her “behavior” as having any meaningful connection with the decision they had just made on the guessing game; they saw no “signs” there.

The youngest children in the study, the three- and four-year-olds in both conditions, only shrugged their shoulders or gave physical explanations for the events, such as the picture not being sticky enough to stay on the wall or the light being broken. Ironically, these youngest children were actually the most scientific of the bunch, perhaps because they interpreted “invisible” to mean simply “not present in the room” rather than “transparent.” Contrary to the common assumption that superstitious beliefs represent a childish mode of sloppy and undeveloped thinking, therefore, the ability to be superstitious actually demands some mental sophistication. At the very least, it’s an acquired cognitive skill.

Still, the real puzzle to our findings was to be found in the reactions of the five- and six-year-olds from the Princess Alice condition. Clearly they possessed the same understanding of invisibility as did the older children, because they also believed Princess Alice caused these spooky things to happen in the lab. Yet although we reminded these children repeatedly that Princess Alice would tell them, somehow, if they chose the wrong box, they failed to put two and two together. So what is the critical change between the ages of about six and seven that allows older children to perceive natural events as being communicative messages about their own behaviors (in this case, their choice of box) rather than simply the capricious, arbitrary actions of some invisible or otherwise supernatural entity?

The answer probably lies in the maturation of children’s theory-of-mind abilities in this critical period of brain development. Research by University of Salzburg psychologist Josef Perner, for instance, has revealed that it’s not until about the age of seven that children are first able to reason about “multiple orders” of mental states. This is the type of everyday, grown-up social cognition whereby theory of mind becomes effortlessly layered in complex, soap opera–style interactions with other people. Not only do we reason about what’s going on inside someone else’s head, but we also reason about what other people are reasoning is happening inside still other people’s heads! For example, in the everyday (nonsupernatural) social domain, one would need this kind of mature theory of mind to reason in the following manner:

“Jakob thinks that Adrienne doesn’t know I stole the jewels.”
Whereas a basic (“first-order”) theory of mind allows even a young preschooler to understand the first propositional clause in this statement, “Jakob thinks that . . . ,” it takes a somewhat more mature (“second-order”) theory of mind to fully comprehend the entire social scenario: “Jakob thinks that [Adrienne doesn’t know] . . .”

Most people can’t go much beyond four orders of mental-state reasoning (consider the Machiavellian complexities of, say, Leo Tolstoy’s novels), but studies show that the absolute maximum in adults hovers around seven orders of mental state. The important thing to note is that, owing to their still-developing theory-of-mind skills, children younger than seven years of age have great difficulty reasoning about multiple orders of mental states. Knowing this then helps us understand the surprising results from the Princess Alice experiment. To pass the test (move their hand) in response to the picture falling or the light flashing, the children essentially had to be reasoning in the following manner:

“Princess Alice knows that [I don’t know] where the ball is hidden.”

To interpret the events as communicative messages, as being about their choice on the guessing game, demands a sort of third-person perspective of the self’s actions: “What must this other entity, who is watching my behavior, think is happening inside my head?” The Princess Alice findings are important because they tell us that, before the age of seven, children’s minds aren’t quite cognitively ripe enough to allow them to be superstitious thinkers. The inner lives of slightly older children, by contrast, are drenched in symbolic meaning. One second-grader was even convinced that the bell in the nearby university clock tower was Princess Alice “talking” to him.

Princess Alice may not have the je ne sais quoi of Mother Mary or the fiery charisma of the Abrahamic God we’re all familiar with, but she’s arguably a sort of empirically constructed god-by-proxy in her own right. The point is, the same basic cognitive processes—namely, a mature theory of mind—are also involved in the believer’s sense of receiving divine guidance from these other members of the more popular holy family. When people ask God to give them a sign, they’re often at a standstill, a fork in the road, paralyzed in a critical moment of existential ambivalence. In such cases, our ears are pricked, our eyes widened, our thoughts ruminating on a particular problem—often “only God knows” what’s on our minds and the extent to which we’re struggling to make a decision. It’s not questions like whether we should choose a different box, but rather decisions such as these: Should I stay with this person or leave him? Should I risk everything, start all over in a new city, or stay here where I’m stifled and bored? Should I have another baby? Should I continue receiving harsh treatment for my disease, or should I just pack it in and call it a life? Just like the location of the hidden ball inside one of those two boxes, we’re convinced that there’s a right and a wrong answer to such important life questions. And for most of us, it’s God, not Princess Alice, who holds the privileged answers.


God doesn’t tell us the answers directly, of course. There’s no nod to the left, no telling elbow poke in our side or “psst” in our ear. Rather, many envision God, and other entities like Him, as encrypting strategic information in an almost infinite array of natural events: the prognostic stopping of a clock at a certain hour and time; the sudden shrieking of a hawk; an embarrassing blemish on our nose appearing on the eve of an important interview; a choice parking spot opening up at a crowded mall just as we pull around; an interesting stranger sitting next to us on a plane. The possibilities are endless. When the emotional climate is just right, there’s hardly a shape or form that “evidence” cannot assume. Our minds make meaning by disambiguating the meaningless.

This sign-reading tendency has a distinct and clear relationship with morality. When it comes to unexpected heartache and tragedy, our appetite for unraveling the meaning of these ambiguous “messages” can become ravenous. Misfortunes appear cryptic, symbolic; they seem clearly to be about our behaviors. Our minds restlessly gather up bits of the past as if they were important clues to what just happened. And no stone goes unturned. Nothing is too mundane or trivial; anything to settle our peripatetic thoughts from arriving at the unthinkable truth that there is no answer because there is no riddle, that life is life and that is that.


Text by Jesse Bering | Sunday, March 13, 2011 |

(Author’s note: Some of the foregoing material is excerpted, with edits, from my new book, The Belief Instinct: The Psychology of Souls, Destiny and the Meaning of Life.)

As we watch in the images rolling in from Japan we are yet again reminded of the sudden destructive potential of mother Earth. The number of fatalities is currently in the hundreds; the number displaced from their homes is in the tens of thousands.

The tsunami generated by this magnitude 8.9 earthquake sent a wall of water sweeping across Japan, and across the Pacific. It was more than 30 feet high in places and reached six miles inland carrying cars, homes and everything else with it. Although the earthquake was 230 miles northeast of Tokyo, this was the worst shaking that people have felt in a city used to earthquakes. Explosions at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station have leaked radioactive material into the surrounding area, and we will undoubtedly hear of other catastrophic impacts over the next few days.

But it could have been much worse. The 2010 Haiti earthquake was magnitude 7; Japan’s earthquake released almost 1000 times more energy than the Haiti event. Yet it is estimated that more than 200,000 people were killed in Haiti compared to the current estimate of hundreds in Japan. The reason for this difference is that Japan is one of the most earthquake-ready countries on Earth, Haiti was not.

For decades Japan has steadily pushed the limits of earthquake preparedness. It invests in research and development to understand the earthquake process and create infrastructure that is better able to withstand future effects. Their state of the art buildings shake but do not collapse. Classes about earthquakes in their schools make earthquake preparedness part of everyone’s lifestyle, and regular public earthquake drills reinforce this for a lifetime. Their seismic networks, the best in the world, provide a tsunami warning system, and more recently an earthquake warning system that provided tens of seconds warning in this earthquake.

This long-term investment that Japan has made to reduce the impact of earthquakes seems like a very good deal today. It has undoubtedly saved many thousands of lives, and will also reduce the long-term impact of the earthquake on the economy as Japan rapidly bounces back. The investment will pay for itself many times over for this earthquake, and the next.

In the U.S. we also have an earthquake problem. Our west-coast cities are built atop active fault zones that give us occasional jolts reminding us of their presence from time to time. The 1989 magnitude 7.0 Loma Prieta earthquake was one such reminder, as was the 1994 magnitude 6.7 Northridge earthquake. Both events were moderate in size and the strongest shaking was in unpopulated mountainous areas. We have not seen the true power of west-coast earthquakes since 1906 when a magnitude 8 earthquake destroyed San Francisco. Los Angeles, the San Francisco Bay Area, or Seattle could be next.

Today, we should not have any illusions about the ability of an earthquake to bring wide-spread destruction a modern city. We most recently experienced the might of mother Earth in the U.S. when Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans in 2005. In addition to the immediate destruction of the widespread flooding, New Orleans also stands as a testament to the long-term effects of these events on our cities. The recent census count shows that the New Orleans population is still down almost one third since the previous pre-Katrina count.

So what is our fate on the west coast? Do we follow Japan’s lead, or do we fall back in the direction of Haiti? We must use this terrible event in Japan as a reminder to redouble our efforts to build an earthquake resilient society. We need to invest in the research and the development that brings about better earthquake safety. We must push the limits of our technologies to deliver new earthquake mitigation strategies.

Modern buildings are built to standards that make them unlikely to collapse, but we need to focus on improving older buildings to bring them up to modern standards. We need more education about earthquake preparedness in our schools, and large-scale drills such as the California Shake-Out. And we need a warning system, like the one that delivered a warning in Japan. A prototype is operational in California. With only a moderate investment, public warnings could be available state-wide. Perhaps this warning from Japan can spur the investment now. We will be very glad we did when the next earthquake strikes.

By Richard Allen ,Mar 12, 2011

Richard M. Allen is the Associate Director of the University of California, Berkeley, Seismological Laboratory and an associate professor in the university’s Department of Earth & Planetary Science

For children and innocent people who are suffering from this natural disaster in Haiti, I think all of us, we can help them, we must do so out of solidarity and love our neighbor (Brother). Further details will be in the coming weeks, but today we must help them quickly.
Here I share some Internet addresses (below)
So long.

Carlos Tiger without time (CTsT)

American Red Cross

World Vision


Doctors Without Borders

Although seismic predictions work on geologic timescales and can miss big quakes by decades, one expert said last week that a temblor in Port-au-Prince was of greater concern than a San Andreas slip

The devastating magnitude 7.0 quake that ripped through Haiti Tuesday, reportedly killing thousands, did not catch everyone by surprise.

In an interview last week for an unrelated story, Robert Yeats, a professor emeritus in geoscience at Oregon State University in Corvallis and co-author of a June 1989 article for Scientific American “Hidden Earthquakes,” said that an imminent big west coast earthquake concerned him far less than a “big one” that might occur in Haiti, due to the large fault near the capital city of Port-au-Prince—and the poverty-driven low level of earthquake-preparedness there.

“If they have an earthquake on this fault that runs through Port-au-Prince,” the death toll would be tremendous, he said January 6.

The fault, called the Enriquillo-Plaintain Garden Fault, runs some 16 kilometers from Port-au-Prince and is at the intersection of the North American and Caribbean tectonic plates, which are slowly sliding past one another. This movement creates a strike-slip fault, the same kind as the San Andreas Fault in California, where the North American and Pacific plates are sliding in different directions. And like the San Andreas, the Enriquillo-Plaintain Garden Fault has been building up pressure.

“The fault has been more or less locked for 200 years,” British Geological Survey seismologist Roger Musson explained to TIME. In this area, where the Caribbean plate is moving east against the North American Plate, plate movement is about seven millimeters per year, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) said.

In fact, Michael Blanpied, an associate coordinator for the USGS Earthquake Hazards Program, explained in a podcast recorded hours after the quake, the two plates are “shearing the island, crushing it, grinding it.” So although such a large earthquake has not shaken Haiti since the 18th century, “this is quite an earthquake-prone region,” Blanpied said. And it is not the biggest quake to hit the Island of Hispaniola (which Haiti shares with the Dominican Republic) in recent history. A magnitude 8.0 earthquake rocked the Dominican Republic in 1946, the Associated Press noted.

Yeats was not the only one to raise concern about a large earthquake in Haiti. Geologic groups have been monitoring the area for decades, and a University of Texas team has been keeping a close eye on the Enriquillo-Plaintain Garden Fault. Two years ago at the 2008 Caribbean Geological Conference, the Austin-based group asserted that there was enough stress built up to cause a magnitude 7.2 earthquake, Nature News reported (Scientific American is part of Nature Publishing Group).

One reason the Tuesday quake, which subjected some three million people to “severe shaking,” was so damaging is that it occurred at a relatively shallow depth, the fault having ruptured about 10 kilometers below the surface, Blanpied noted. It also occurred below relatively loose ground, Carrieann Bedwell, a USGS geophysicist, told LiveScience. “A mountainous and rocky setting is more characteristic of not as much ground shaking, opposed to abundant sediments…where there’s a potential for higher ground shaking,” he said. “Haiti would be a more sediment type, more severe ground-shaking geologic setting.”

Although the earthquake has leveled countless buildings in the capital city of more than two million people—and triggered landslides throughout the heavily deforested region—it did not spur a tsunami as was initially feared for at sizeable Caribbean quake, and authorities canceled a tsunami watch two hours after the earthquake itself.

But magnitude and shake dynamics are not what really concerned Yeats and other seismologists. “It’s really not the size of the earthquake that’s the big concern,” he noted last week, “it’s its relationship to big cities.” And an earthquake in this area was particularly worrisome, not just because of the tension-filled fault, but because “the infrastructure there is just terrible,” said Yeats, who is also a senior consultant for geological hazards company, Earth Consultants International, and has studied earthquake preparedness around the world. In a book called Active Faults of the World that he is currently writing for Cambridge University Press, he estimated several months ago that “the poor state of construction in both [Haiti and the Dominican Republic], but especially Haiti, indicates that when the next large earthquakes strikes either [Port-au-Prince or Santo Domingo], it will be a catastrophe, in part because of the lack of a social-services network.”

The Enriquillo-Plaintain Garden Fault is one of dozens around the world that run through populous, but often poorly prepared, areas. Last week, Yeats also called the city of Tehran “a time bomb that is waiting to go off.” The North Tehran Fault could unleash an earthquake similarly massive to the one anticipated to strike southern California in the coming decades. But in the Iranian capital, he says, despite advanced regional technology, many of the buildings are not shake-proof.

Other worrisome locales, he notes, are Lima, Peru, and Karachi, Pakistan, as well as and much of Turkey, where many areas are either unsafely built due to corruption or poverty.

Whether last weekend’s 6.5 magnitude temblor off the coast of Northern California’s Humboldt County and the Haiti earthquake two days later are linked is yet to be determined. Seismologists now widely recognize that a large earthquake in one place can trigger another vulnerable fault thousands of miles away. Yeats calls it the “pulling the buttons off your shirt” idea—by releasing tension on one stressed point, the force shifts and can rupture another “locked” point. “You pull one button off,” he said, “and the next one is ready to go.” A paper published last October in Nature reported the large 2004 seismic events near the Indonesian island Sumatra that spurred the devastating Indian Ocean tsunami had an impact on the San Andreas fault in California.

In the meantime, seismologists will be watching Haiti closely, Blanpied noted in the USGS podcast, and they expect to see aftershocks for days to come. The largest aftershocks so far have already rumbled in at magnitude 5.9, and more could strike at any time.

And Yeats is not convinced that this latest quake at Haiti is the most severe one the Caribbean is likely to see in the near future. “It’s not the big one,” he said in a January 13 follow-up interview. He added he is now worried that a larger one could hit other cities in the region, such as Santa Domingo in the Dominican Republic or Kingston, Jamaica. The Caribbean Plate, he noted, is “just sort of sitting there while the North American and South American plates move” west (due to sea floor spreading in the Atlantic). But the next big earthquake could be years or decades from now, he said. “We’re good at placing these forecasts and probabilistic terms on a geological time scale, but we’re not good at putting it at scales that matter to you and me.” And even probability forecasts can turn out to be wrong. The southern San Andreas was pegged as likely to produce a major earthquake before this one was, he noted.


* By Katherine Harmon, News – January 13, 2010


The earthquake of August 15, has left 34,000 families without a home, more than 1,000 wounded, countless others severely injured that had to be evacuated to Lima, and more than 500 dead. The most affected are the people of Pisco, Chincha, and Ica. They need our support. They need blood, coats, food, tents, water and money.

Luis Campos, director of @clubdeperuanos, went to Pisco and let us know that the damage is beyond comprehension, although there are a lot of people helping, the area affected is too big they need more and more help so they can reach everyone that has been left with nothing.

One way to help all of the people is with money through Peruvian organizations that are working in the affected areas or through the North American organizations that have opened exclusive bank accounts for helping Peru.

If you would like to help with food or other items, it would be appreciated, but you must also consider that the cost of transportation of this help to Peru is going to be more in some cases, than the price of the item you are donating. That is why a monetary donation is the best way to help.

How to actually help? The Peruvian embassy in Washington DC has opened a bank account at HSBC Bank. The info for this account is at the end of the communication. Also if you prefer, you can make a direct transfer to the accounts set at the Peruvian banks such as Interbank.

Another alternative to make a donation is through North American charity organizations that have established specific accounts for the victims of the earthquake. These are:

a. Unicef:
b. Save the Children:
c. Oxfam America:
d. America Cares:
e. IR Teams:

These organizations have already created a fund for our country, so you have to be sure you are specifying a donation for the victims of the earthquake in Peru.

We would appreciate if you send this letter to your American friends, so they can also help.

Javier Justo

Bank information for donations:

For Caritas Peru: (
Account Name: “Emergencia por los damnificados del Terremoto en Pisco, Ica y Canete”
Account Number: 201030010003521
ABA: 067015355

Un techo para mi Pais:
Please go to: (You can donate there with your credit card).

Account Name: “Damnificados Ica – Peru”
Account Number: 200-0000001118
The following money transfer services will not charge any commissions for transfers to the Interbank account:
Xoom, Bancomercio, Uno, Dolex, BTS, Via Americas, Transfast, Pronto Envios, Vigo, Girosol, MFIC, Intertransfers and Mateo Express. For more information on money transfers to the Interbank account please call 1-866-352-7378

Embassy of Peru:
Account Name: “Embassy of Peru – Sismo Peru 2007”
Account Number: 389060178
1130 Connecticut Avenue, NW.
Washington DC 20036

or by sending your donation by check to:

Name: “Embassy of Peru – Sismo Peru 2007” Address: Embassy of Peru
1700 Massachusetts Ave. NW
Washington DC 20036
Para cualquier información adicional, por favor contáctese con el (202) 833-9860 .


A compassionate state of mind brings inner peace, and therefore a healthier body. 



It is important to use money properly to help others, other wise you still want more and feel poor.












PISCO, Peru – Earthquake survivors desperate for food and water ransacked a public market, while other mobs looted a refrigerated trailer and blocked aid trucks on the Pan-American highway, prompting Peru’s president to appeal for calm Friday.


Aid reached the disaster zone on Friday morning, bringing relief to a city that had largely fended for itself for 36 hours, but hopes of finding more survivors diminished.

At least 510 people were killed in the quake and 1,500 were injured, overwhelming the few hospitals in Peru’s southern desert region, and severe damage to the only highway slowed trucks from Peru. But food, water, tents and blankets were finally arriving, and with Peruvian soldiers distributing silver caskets, the first mass funerals were being held.

“Nobody is going to die of hunger or thirst,” President Alan Garcia said following complaints that aid was not arriving fast enough for thousands who lost loved ones, homes and belongings in Wednesday’s magnitude-8 temblor and the many aftershocks that have followed.

“I understand your desperation, your anxiety and some are taking advantage of the circumstances to take the property of others, take things from stores, thinking they’re not going to receive help,” Garcia said. “There is no reason to fall into exaggerated desperation knowing that the state is present.”

Electricity, water and phone service were down in much of southern Peru. Garcia predicted that “a situation approaching normality” in 10 days, but acknowledged that rebuilding would take far longer. That was obvious to everyone in the gritty port city of Pisco, where officials said 85 percent of the downtown was destroyed.

Pisco’s center was a collection of rubble piles abbreviated by half-collapsed hulks. Even the structures still standing aren’t livable. In streets littered with downed power and telephone lines, people in blankets huddled around fires.

Two tremors shook the city after dawn, among the 18 aftershocks of magnitude-5 or greater recorded since the main, magnitude-8 quake.

Peru’s fire department said the death toll had risen to 510. Destruction was centered in Peru’s southern desert, in the oasis city of Ica, in nearby Pisco, about 200 kilometers southeast of the capital of Lima.

Also damaged was the town of Chincha, where a prison wall fell down, and at least 571 prisoners escaped. Only 29 were recaptured, a top prisons official said.

Searchers were still seeking bodies and survivors at the San Clemente church on Pisco’s main square, where hundreds had gathered on the day Roman Catholics celebrate the Virgin Mary’s rise into heaven for a memorial Mass for a man who died a month earlier.

Minutes before the service was to end, the church’s domed ceiling began to break apart. The shaking lasted for an agonizing two minutes, burying 200 people, according to the town’s mayor.

About 50 bodies had been removed from the church by dawn Friday, said Jorge Molina, the search and rescue team leader, who still held out hope of finding more people alive.

Three bodies still lay unclaimed in body bags on the plaza, where rescue workers from Lima had pitched tents and relatives held vigil.

Nearby, survivors lined up under a beating sun to receive bottled water unloaded from trucks by soldiers.

The relief effort showed signs of organization by mid-morning, with the military clearing rubble, police identifying corpses and civil defense teams ferrying food. Housing ministry officials started to assess who will need new homes.

Brig. Maj. Jorge Vera, chief of the rescue operation, said 85 percent of downtown Pisco had been destroyed. The center of the city was choked with traffic, including relief vehicles.

In the cemetery, a man painted the names of the dead in black on headstones. Some 200 headstones were lined up, along with more than 30 coffins. Some burial vaults had collapsed in the quake, and crosses tumbled over.

Felipe Gutierrez, 82, sat in his pajamas — his only clothing — in front of what was his Pisco home. The quake reduced it to rubble and he, his 74-year-old wife, their two children and three grandchildren sat staring at the ruins, a tangle of adobe, straw and all of their belongings.

“Yesterday we slept on a mattress, and now we’ll have to set up a tent, because we have no where to live,” he said.

International help includes cash from the United States, United Nations, Red Cross and European Union as well as tents, water, medicine and other supplies. The U.S. Navy hospital ship Comfort, equipped with a staff of 800 and 12 operating rooms, is in Ecuador and could quickly sail to Peru if asked, U.S. officials said.

The U.S. government said it had released $150,000 in emergency funds for emergency supplies and was sending medical teams, including one already in Peru for a training mission. It said it was sending two mobile clinics and loaned two helicopters to Peruvian authorities.

Magnitude 8 quakes are capable of causing tremendous damage. Scientists said this one was a “megathrust” — similar to the catastrophic Indian Ocean temblor in 2004 that generated deadly tsunami waves. “Megathrusts produce the largest earthquakes on the planet,” USGS geophysicist Paul Earle said.

The temblor occurred in one of the most seismically active regions in the world, where the Nazca and South American tectonic plates meet. The plates are moving together at a rate of 3 inches a year, Earle said.


Associated Press writers Monte Hayes, Edison Lopez and Leslie Josephs in Lima, Martin Mejia and Mauricio Munoz in Ica, Edith M. Lederer at the United Nations, Alicia Chang in Los Angeles and Sarah DiLorenzo in New York contributed to this report.