Peru Tourist Haven Desolate after Earthquake

PARACAS, Peru ~ A sign painted on a wall welcomes visitors to the “paradise” of Paracas, but the tourist oasis is a shell of its former self after Peru was hit by a powerful earthquake.

Hotels along the tiny fishing village have been deserted since last Wednesday’s earthquake triggered waves that sent tourists running out of their waterfront rooms on the Pacific Ocean.

Just 15 kilometers south of Pisco, the town hardest hit by the earthquake that killed 500 people, Paracas attracts European and American tourists to its national reserve’s rich wildlife that includes penguins, flamingos and the occasional condor.

Paracas is also known for its ancient burial grounds of the pre-Incan Paracas culture, whose people buried their dead inside communal, bottle-shaped tombs.

But the villagers fear it will take several months before tourists, the town’s lifeblood, will flock back to Paracas, which is already overshadowed by more famous attractions such as the mysterious Nazca lines nearby and the Inca citadel of Machu Picchu.

Hotel workers began the laborious cleanup effort, sweeping water from rooms and picking up the rubble of crumbled walls. The streets were covered with drying algae left by the ocean water as it receded.

It may take months for the Hotel Paracas – an exclusive resort with a statue of a condor, wings spread, welcoming clients – to reopen, said hotel security guard Miguel Ramos.

Its pool’s blue water was replaced by murky, shallow water, while the beach walkway was cracked in several sections. “There was a lot of destruction,” Ramos said.

In the nearby Hotel El Amigo, Luisa Guillen Ormeno, 60, hopes the tourists will return to the village soon.

Several walls in her budget, 10-room hotel were cracked. She said civil defense authorities will have to survey the building to see if it is still livable.

“I am responsible for my clients’ safety,” she said. She expects tourists will wait a few months before returning, since the village has no water or power, while several sections of the PanAmerican highway linking Paracas to Lima are cut off.

“I depend on the tourists,” she said. “All I can do now is wait.”

On the night of the earthquake, the 8.0 magnitude tremor sent tourists and villagers out of their rooms. Two hours later, ocean water invaded buildings and reached the streets sending everyone scrambling for the hills, police and villagers said.

“They ran out desperately toward the police station and then the hills,” said police officer Francisco Pina Aquije. He said five people died and two were injured, none of them tourists.

While all the foreigners left the night of the earthquake and the following day, the villagers now have to cope with the loss of tourist cash, while 15 fishing boats were wrecked.

Many villagers remain on the hills where they set up camp fearing that their damaged homes will crumble.

Angel Miguel Echevarria Salguero, a fisherman, and his wife, Teresa Nunez, now live in a tent with their two teenage children in the highest part of the village.

“We were left in the street,” the husband, 41, said pointing to the cracks in his modest home’s walls. “The house will collapse.”

In a bitterly ironic twist, someone brought a stray penguin to their house. Salguero, who used to work at the national reserve, will now have to return the animal back to its natural home, whose wildlife Salguero hopes will lure tourists back.

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