August 1, 2001
On June 23, for 1 minute and 15 seconds the earth shook, knocking down homes built of adobe and wood. Fortunately for residents of southern Peru, the disaster struck in the afternoon when most people were outdoors, reducing significantly the number of victims. However, for the people on the coast, the worst was still to come. In the coastal city of Camaná, a tsunami that followed the earthquake claimed lives and devastated fishing communities.
"The earthquake hit while we were working in our small vegetable gardens next to the sea â€¦ After the shock, we continued working. It was 15 minutes later that people started to run and shout: 'The beach is coming over, the beach is coming over!' What followed was like the end of the world. Three huge waves, like snakes, rose up between 10 and 30 meters and entered inland, destroying everything. Animals were dragged by the water, homes shattered in a thousand pieces, people ran terrified while others fought to reach dry land..." recalled one Camaná resident.
Around 2,000 people who lost everything live now in settlements of tents and plastic sheeting, dependent on humanitarian aid. Vegetable gardens next to the sea are useless for farming and the water is full of rubble, making fishing impossible. But the worst illness affecting the population is the psychological impact of the disaster. With each aftershock, people run and are panic-stricken fearing another tsunami.
"A natural disaster reminds us that we are human beings, that we are vulnerable," explains GermÃ¡n Casas Nieto, psychiatrist in charge of MSF's mental health program in Camaná. "After a huge disaster like this one, it is paramount to offer psychological support to help them get over the situation and prevent severe post-traumatic stress disorders."
Testimonies collected in CamanÃ¡ on July 5, 2001
"I was under the rubble and thought I was going to die."
"After the earthquake, I continued with household chores. All of a sudden, I heard people shouting. I didn't have time to go out and see what was happening. A huge wave came over and flooded everything. Water was dragging me away. I cried out asking for help. I heard my neighbor shouting as well. I tried to stand up and run when a second wave pushed the house over me. I was under the rubble and I thought I was going to die. The water was very strong and dragged everything away. But I managed to get out and look around. Everything was destroyed. In the distance, I saw a neighbor with her child in her arms. I thought she was lucky for being able to save her son. But I didn't have time to start walking when another wave knocked me down again. I shouted, asking for help. I didn't have the strength to fight against the water. I don't know how I managed to get out. I saw my neighbor again. Her son was not in her arms anymore. I took off my trousers, the same ones I'm wearing now, and managed to reach my family."
— Cristina, 21. She lived in "La Calderona," a farming community by the sea. She managed to survive the tsunami. Her neighbor, lost her three and five year-old sons, who were dragged away by the sea. She's now in a hospital in Lima, unable to come to terms with the loss of her children.
"I fear the sea will come over again."
"The earthquake hardly damaged my house. When I was cleaning the rubble, I heard my sons shouting. I didn't have time to go outdoors. The sea came over my house and I could hardly grab a beam to avoid being dragged away by the water. I could see my pigs, lambs and cows being dragged away by the water. I cried out for help and thought I was going to die. But one of my sons managed to get me out of the water. The animals and a vegetable garden were everything I had. I hoped to offer my children some education so that they could have a better life. But the sea has taken everything away. Only two pigs and a cow are left. The worst of it all is that our family is being pulled apart. My husband does not want to leave the rubble of our house. And I fear the sea will come over again. My children are very important for me. I worked very hard so that they can study. I don't want them to live as I did, abandoned in the street when I was six."
— A 42-year old mother of five. She lived in "La Deheza" community, taking care of her cattle and farming her small vegetable garden. The psychological impact of the disaster has revived traumatic experiences from her childhood, plunging her into a severe depression.
"The beach came over and took away everything we had."
"After the earthquake, we saw the sea go backwards. This put us on alert. A while later, the beach came over and took away everything we had. Our boats, fishing nets, homes... Fortunately, we haven't lost any relatives. But we have no livelihood. We've lost our tools. On the other hand, the sea is full of rubble and fishing is not possible. What are we going to do? How are we going to earn our living?"
— Camaná resident
© 2013 Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF)