One month has passed since devastating floods and mudslides swept Peru’s coastline and communities north of the capital of Lima, killing 113 people and destroying the homes of an estimated 700,000 people.
The powerful rainy season storms, sparked by an El Niño in the neighboring Pacific Ocean, cut power and access to clean drinking water in the region. Roads and bridges crumbled, leaving remote farming villages isolated for days.
Volunteers and staff from Socios En Salud, as Partners In Health is known locally, responded immediately to the disaster. Every day since March 20, 50 medical brigades over the past month pushed throughout the Carabayllo District, PIH’s headquarters north of Lima, and beyond to deliver emergency aid and medication to more than 3,200 people, distribute 500-plus baskets of food, and tend to the mental health needs of nearly 200 patients.
Each new day was an opportunity to make a difference for those most in need—for people like *Jazmín, *Carlos, and Celeste.
Like many residents of Santa Rosa del Huaico, Jazmín just wanted to cross the swollen Huaycoloro River, which had wiped away her family’s home days earlier. Following her family and friends, the 6-year-old tried to pick a path along mounds of bags and trash that had accumulated midstream, but she slipped and fell. Her hands sunk deep into the muck, and a shard of broken glass sliced her left wrist.
Luckily, a PIH medical brigade had been established nearby. Her mother took her to one of the pop-up tents, where a volunteer doctor cleaned her wound, stitched her back together, and bandaged her wrist. All the while, Jazmín smiled and bravely sat through the ordeal. She never cried or complained, just chatted calmly with her doctor.
*Jazmín hugs Carmen Contreras, director of intervention programs in Peru, after receiving care at a medical tent. (Photo courtesy of Socios En Salud)
Miles away in Chocas, *Carlos was coming to terms with his own loss. The mudslides destroyed his home, including important documents and all the clothing he wasn’t wearing. He and his family were left without electricity or running water.
The floods seemed an unfair blow to Carlos, who had already suffered for three years with a debilitating injury. A terrible accident had left part of the 40-year-old’s left leg and foot paralyzed, and it was difficult for him to get around before the storms. Now it was nearly impossible.
In early April, a PIH medical brigade found Carlos outside his makeshift home erected from a tarp and a bedsheet. Staff taught him physical therapy exercises and massage techniques to improve his range of motion. His recuperation is slow, but steady, and he receives visits from volunteers who provide him counseling as he faces the long road ahead.
*Carlos (center) sits outside his makeshift home while PIH staff and volunteers examine his left leg. (Photo courtesy of Socios En Salud)
A week into the flooding, a PIH medical brigade visited the village of Las Brisas, where the Chillón River had swallowed more than 150 families’ homes. Flor Pérez, 19, and her 1-month-old baby, Celeste, were among those who had seen their houses swept away in the rushing waters.
Dr. Leonid Lecca, executive director of PIH in Peru, visited the mother and her infant, who had been born prematurely and underweight, in a neighbor’s home. He noticed that the baby was badly dehydrated and had a swollen abdomen. Staff escorted the family to a nearby health center. And Daniela Puma, a nurse working with PIH, began visiting the family regularly to ensure they had diapers and other medical supplies.
Two weeks after that first visit, Celeste was healthy and stable. A recent checkup even revealed she’s well within the average range of length and weight for an infant her age.
Flor Pérez (left) smiles at her newborn daughter, Celeste, who has recovered from dehydration and gained weight. (Photo by William Castro Rodriguez / Socios En Salud)
*Names have been changed to protect privacy.