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Peru quake: Up close and very personal

A St. Petersburg missionary family working in Peru watched as their neighborhood crumbled in June's earthquake.


© St. Petersburg Times,
published July 1, 2001

With the world seeming to fall down around them, Anne Weller, a local teacher thousands of miles from home, raced downstairs with two of her children and into the streets of Arequipa, Peru.

From a park across the street, Mrs. Weller, daughter Megan and son JJ saw an apartment building implode, rupturing a water line. Across town in the Park of the Americas, her husband Brian and daughter Katelyn watched as portions of massive statues crashed to the ground.

"The thought that ran through my mind," Mrs. Weller said, "was this is much more realistic than the earthquake ride at Universal Studios."

The Wellers are residents of St. Petersburg and spend part of every summer as missionaries. They are accustomed to hardship and challenges, but nothing, said Mrs. Weller, prepared them for the earthquake on June 23 that shook the southern part of Peru.

The U.S. Geological Survey reported the quake's magnitude at 8.1, giving it a status of "great," the highest grade for earthquakes. Aftershocks registered as high as 5.5.

"The most fearful part has been the aftershocks," Mrs. Weller wrote in an e-mail on Monday. "The house literally shakes. Even as I am writing this to you, I have felt two shakes lasting less than five seconds. If after ten seconds it is still shaking, we get out of the house."

Missionary Ventures International, based in Orlando, recruits and develops short-term teams who go to Third World countries for several weeks every summer "to assist the full-time missionaries with building projects, evangelism, feeding centers for children, and medical and dental centers," said Mrs. Weller, a teacher at Perkins Elementary School. She was a finalist for Pinellas County Teacher of the Year in 1997.

In addition to Megan, 16, Katelyn, 13, and JJ, 6, the Wellers took members of their Christian rock group called Cross Street: Ryan Marr, 20; Dustin Marr, 19; David Bueller, 20, and Hope Miles, 17. The group had been performing at a youth conference in Arequipa. Mrs. Weller said everyone on the team was safe.

Arequipa is the country's second-largest city. News reports of devastation to the region, with more than 100 people reported dead, thousands injured and almost 50,000 people left homeless, were confirmed by the Wellers.

"The quake started in the ocean," Mrs. Weller said, "causing a tidal wave that destroyed the town of Camana (a town on Peru's southwest coast). Our team went there. . . . It was a three-hour drive. . . . there were huge boulders blocking the roads. . . . part of Camana was devastated. The tidal wave was reported to be 70 feet high. It hit 15 minutes after the quake. The people that survived are living in a few tents. Our group distributed food and canned milk."

Even though phone lines were shut down, schools closed and many parts of the city destroyed, Mrs. Weller was able to communicate with the outside world via a disc sent from the local Internet Cafe.

She said they will not leave before their planned return on July 7.

"Overall, the mood is improving," she said. "The Plaza de las Americas is packed with people who want to see the damage to the cathedral. . . . JJ said, 'I hope God puts a rainbow in the sky to let us know that will never happen again.' "

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