2007 Peru Earthquake Chiropractic Commentary

by Michael Sontheimer, D.C.

It was an incredible event. A little after 6pm, the windows in the house began to rattle. I was adjusting a patient but we thought nothing of it. I live in Peru, this is common. I have felt dozens of tremors over the past years and some rather strong. However this was different. This was no tremor. After a few seconds it got a lot stronger. The adjusting room opens out to a garden in the back of the house. So I told the young man on the table that he was welcome to come outside with me. As I went into the garden and looked up at the house, I could see it swaying. All the other buildings in the neighborhood were doing the same. In fact, most of the buildings in the entire country were swaying. At this sight I decided I needed to be further away in case the place collapsed. I briskly walked through the house and out the front door. That is when the scene took on an even more surreal feeling. I was outside with about 10 patients that had been in the waiting room. The street began to fill as the houses and business emptied. People were crying, screaming, wailing and hugging their loved ones. Others were on their knees praying. As I stood there I felt I was on a boat in very rough water. As I looked at the street, I could see it moving in a wave-like manner. It was as if this would never stop and I honestly was expecting the earth to open up like in the movies. It was after more than two minutes of this that the telephone poles quit swaying, the ground under our feet became still once again and we knew we had just witnessed a very large earthquake. Later to find out it was a 7.9 with the epicenter located a few hours by car from Lima.

In a third world country, there are a variety of problems that we are not accustomed to in the United States. The infrastructure is simply not prepared to handle events of this kind. Immediately the phone system collapsed due to the volume of calls. No one knew anything of their family until they got to the house and saw them in person. I talked to my father, brother and cousin via the internet before anyone here could even know if their house was standing.

Fortunately, in the country’s capital of Lima there was not major structural damage on a large scale. However further south near the epicenter the picture was much more bleak. Entire towns were leveled, people were buried in the rubble. Phones were down, there was no water and no electricity. This was a very bad situation for a multitude of reasons. Primarily the death of innocent people and the worry of the loved ones searching for and finding them. But beyond that, when you are in a poor country where people are hungry and desperate every day of their lives, an event like this is an opportunity for theft and looting beyond comprehension. There were also two large prisons that collapsed and inmates had escaped.

adjusting in Peru crowd of hundredsHowever the help and support of the human species is a wonderful thing to witness. Two days later myself and a group of 5 other chiropractors loaded our cars with food, water, diapers, clothing and chiropractic adjusting tables and went south to where the people were in dire need. We were on our way from Chincha to a town called Pisco about 3 hours south of Lima when we noticed that traffic was backed up on the Panamerican Highway. The reason was a severely damaged bridge. When the people who were hungry, thirsty and without what little bit of material goods they had owned, saw the trucks and cars full of much needed supplies continuing south without giving them any of the goods, they became upset. Group mentality set in and the situation was bad. We turned our car around very quickly and hastily got out of there heading back north toward Chincha. There were hordes of people and only a handful of police officers. The people were breaking windows and stealing whatever they could grab out of cars. Large trucks and buses that were loaded were robbed. It was a very scary ordeal and I am fortunate to have left before things escalated even more.

On the way back north we saw a small park-like area where people were apparently camped out. What had happened was all the houses in that small town had fallen down and these people had what little of their personal belongings out in the elements waiting for aid to rebuild… aid that may or may never come. There simply is not a system with enough money and organization to help all in need. So we parked the cars right there on the highway, got out and did our part. There were many people with cuts, scrapes, bruises etc. As chiropractors we are not involved in emergency care or trauma management. But we are also caring human beings with a knowledge of the human body and an understanding of human suffering. So we set up tables and while some of us were adjusting the people, others were making sandwiches and distributing the supplies. Being there amongst so much pain and suffering is a chilling experience. It feels wonderful to help people. To receive their thanks and to see and feel the gratitude in their hugs and handshakes. But of course there are so many people that need the help, you always feel that there is more that can be done.

The goal of writing this article is to accomplish a few things. One is to let you know from a first hand source what happened here. Another is to give you the opportunity to feel sympathy, love and hope for those less fortunate. And yet another is to become involved. The information below will allow you to give what you feel you are able to help those here in Peru. Although by the time you read this article it will have been several weeks since the earthquake, the damage will not be cleaned up for many months and even years in some areas. I also want to let everyone know that when there are situations such as this, the chiropractic profession is here to lend what help we can to decrease the suffering of those in need.

If you have been moved in any way by this account of human suffering and would like to share your abundance with those who are in dire need…. I am enclosing the account information of a Peruvian bank with offices in the U.S.A. so that you may send a donation and make a difference in these peoples lives. [Contact Michael for more information.]

Dr. Michael Sontheimer is an American chiropractor practicing in Lima, Peru. He can be reached at michaelsontheimer [at] hotmail [dot] [com]

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To view more photos provided by chiropractors practicing in Peru.

Related content: Earthquake Peru Chiropractors on the Scene.

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