Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

How Calamity Makes the World Kin

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

How Calamity Makes the World Kin

Article excerpt

Nacho Castillo was working at his job with an airline in Madrid last week when he heard about the quake. As he's done in the past, he dropped everything, whistled to his German shepherd, and jumped on a plane for South America.

"Everyone is here," says Mr. Castillo, as he stands atop a ruined hotel in the city of Armenia, Colombia. "The Russians sent over a lot of dogs."

Castillo is one of hundreds of men and women from around the world who showed up to share the enormous task of rescue and recovery from the devastation that last week's earthquake has made of western Colombia. Firemen, engineers, medics - as well as dog-handlers - have come from as near as Peru and as far as Japan, along with the cash and tons of supplies sent by the United Nations and individual countries. "That labrador saved nine people in the Viascas {Spain} landslide in 1996," says Jos Julio Urreas, a member of Castillo's three-man, three-dog team. The Spanish team is working with some Japanese volunteers on top of what was the Hotel Armenia Plaza. The hotel's seven floors have fallen in, and it is now about one story high. Somehow a small car is mixed in about eight feet of rubble. The dogs sniff through the wreckage. All a human nose can detect is concrete dust and the remnants of some tear gas, which soldiers loosed on an angry mob of survivors who were looting grocery stores downtown. "The biggest problem has been the government. There has been no one point of information and organization. You ask who's in charge and no one ever is. We've wasted a lot of time," says Mr. Urreas. Why governments falter Not all the chaos can be blamed on the government, says John Anderson, a Scottish volunteer. "You know, if this happened in the UK we wouldn't be prepared either. It was the same in L.A. {Los Angeles, 1989}, it was the same in Kobe {Japan, 1995}," says Mr. Anderson. He has served 12 years in the independent International Rescue Corps. It's unpaid work - in fact he pays about $25 each year to be a member. He's run relief supplies to refugees in Africa as well as worked on several earthquakes. "People always say the government is doing a bad job, but it takes a long time to get organized," he says. However, the chaos in Armenia has also had characteristics of a country riven by crime, civil war, and distrust of government. Survivors, desperate for food, have been breaking into downtown stores and taking everything. On Friday they even stormed the Red Cross warehouse, convinced that aid inside wasn't going to be distributed. "They've sent help from all over the world. We see the food on TV, but where is it?" asks Luis Alberto Espaa, whose house collapsed in the barrio (district) of Telarmenia. He's been living in the street. But it doesn't appear to be all necessity - some of the cleaned- out stores were full of shoes, appliances, or hardware. …

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