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TheStreet Open House

Peru's Capital Highly Vulnerable To Major Quake

"How are the injured going to be attended to? What is the ability of hospitals to respond? Of basic services? Water, energy, food reserves? I don't think this is being addressed with enough responsibility," said Tavera of the Geophysical Institute.

By necessity, most injured will be treated where they fall, but Peru's police have no comprehensive first-aid training. Only Lima's 4,000 firefighters, all volunteers, have such training, as does a 1,000-officer police emergency squadron.

But because the firefighters are volunteers, a quake's timing could influence rescue efforts.

"If you go to a fire station at 10 in the morning there's hardly anyone there," said Gonzalez, who advocates a full-time professional force.

In the next two months, Lima will spend nearly $2 million on the three fire companies that cover downtown Lima, its first direct investment in firefighters in 25 years, Prado said. The national government is spending $18 million citywide for 50 new fire trucks and ambulances.

But where would the ambulances go?

A 1997 study by the Pan American Health Organization found that three of Lima's principal public hospitals would likely collapse in a major quake, but nothing has been done to reinforce them.

And there are no free beds. One public hospital, Maria Auxiliadora, serves more than 1.2 million people in Lima's south but has just 400 beds, and they are always full.

Contingency plans call for setting up mobile hospitals in tents in city parks. But Gonzalez said only about 10,000 injured could be treated.

Water is also a worry. The fire threat to Lima is severe â¿¿ from refineries to densely-backed neighborhoods honeycombed with colonial-era wood and adobe. Lima's firefighters often can't get enough water pressure to douse a blaze.

"We should have places where we can store water not just to put out fires but also to distribute water to the population," said Sato, former head of the disaster mitigation department at Peru's National Engineering University.

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