Pope to Send Top Aide to Quake-Ravaged Peru

( [email protected] ) Aug 20, 2007 10:44 AM EDT

As hopes fade of pulling any more survivors from the rubble caused by last Wednesday’s huge earthquake in Peru, Pope Benedict XVI announced Sunday that he would send his top aide to the country to show solidarity with the victims.

The magnitude 8.0 earthquake killed more than 500 people across a number of towns in Peru’s central coast region, with the death toll expected to rise as rescuers and their sniffer dogs continue to comb the rubble of churches and homes for bodies.

The Pope said that the Vatican’s Secretary of State Tarcisio Bertone had been planning for some time to visit the largely Catholic country and would "in the next few days personally bring testimony of my feelings and the concrete help of the Holy See", according to Reuters.

Amid the ongoing chaos of rescue work and looting, many survivors opted to pack up and leave what remained of their homes over the weekend to find safe shelter with family and friends in other towns.

The Peruvian Government sent in hundreds of soldiers last week in an effort to halt the looting.

In the worst-hit towns of Pisco, Chincha and Ica, 600 troops joined the 400 already present, while an additional 2,000 police were deployed to keep the streets under control.

A number of Christian aid agencies rushed to the quake-hit region last week, including World Vision and Caritas International, where they continue to distribute essential items like food, water, tents, medicines and blankets among survivors.

Around 34,000 homes were destroyed by the quake, with experts claiming that the mud-brick constructions were to blame for many of the deaths.

Peruvian President Alan Garcia has been in the quake-hit region inspecting the damage and meeting survivors and those involved with the rescue and reconstruction effort. He assured that the houses would be rebuilt but this time with “solid material”.