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Mormon aid to Peru after quake 'beautiful thing'

PISCO,

Peru — Not a day passes that Rosa Maurtua doesn't lay her hand across

the solid brick and mortar of her new house, relishing the security it

provides.

A "well built home" are

three sweet words for Maurtua. On Aug. 15, 2007, a massive magnitude

8.0 quake struck her city of Pisco and other regions of western Peru.

Hundreds were killed and thousands more lost their homes.

"When

the earthquake started, I crawled under a table with my grandchildren,"

she remembered. "The ground was moving so violently that we were

knocking our heads against the bottom of the table."

When the earth finally settled, Maurtua found herself among Peru's new homeless.

Two

and a half years later, the horrifying images of the adobe walls of her

family home collapse about her remain vivid. Such memories, she said,

have left her forever grateful to be living under a strong roof,

surrounded by reinforced brick walls secured to a sturdy foundation.

The

Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints began delivering assistance

to the quake victims in the immediate hours following the quake. Days

later, tons of food, water and other provisions flown in from Salt Lake

City sustained church members and many other victims. In the weeks that

followed, hundreds of families sought refuge in tent cities that sprung

up around LDS meetinghouses in affected areas.

But

recovery from a natural disaster such as the historic temblor that

rattled western Peru extends beyond bottles of water, tents and other

first-response provisions. Many who watched their homes crumble

wondered if they would ever again live in a place they could call their

own.

Evidence of the quake can still

be found here in this industrial coastal city. Adobe walls on city

streets are cracked and scarred, and piles of rubble remain. But for

many, the recovery is finally complete. A large-scale building project

sponsored by the LDS Church has helped hundreds of Peruvian members

such as Maurtua enjoy lives in new homes built to withstand future

seismic events.

Some 349 homes have

been completed with materials and guidance provided by the church. The

muscle and sweat of the homeowners and their fellow members and friends

provided the labor.

Each new home is

built on a reinforced foundation and includes beams, columns and roofs

fortified with multiples rows of rebar. Nobody will mistake the houses

for mansions, but they do protect the residents with solid walls and

priceless peace of mind.

The recipients of the homes call their new residences remarkable blessings.

"The

project has been a beautiful thing," said Jeronimo Gutierrez, who lives

in a new home with his wife, Carmen, and sons Lennin and Melvin. "We

always use our family home evening to remember the importance of

gratitude."

The Peru homebuilding

project was executed under the direction of Elder Marcus B. Nash, a

member of the church's Quorum of the Seventy and the president of the

South America West Area.

The effort

was anchored in rebuilding both homes and spirits. Four guiding

principles defined the project: integrity, gratitude, hard work and

service.

Senior missionaries with

professional construction backgrounds were called to Peru to help

oversee the building efforts. They were joined by local engineers who

helped ensure each of the new homes adhered to strict design standards

to make them as seismic-proof as possible.

Lives

have been forever changed. Wenceslao Conde remembers Aug. 15, 2007, as

the worst day of his life. He had attended his mother's funeral and was

returning to his home when the ground began shifting and shaking

violently.

"When we reached our home, we found all the walls had been destroyed. We were so scared," Conde said.

A

woman and her young daughter who lived next door to the Condes were

both killed when they were struck by a falling beam near their front

door. Panic was felt across his neighborhood.

Conde

was serving as the branch president in his LDS unit when the quake

struck. For a month and a half he performed his ecclesiastical duties

and tried to earn an income while living with his family in a tent

pitched outside the local LDS meetinghouse.

Now they live in a modest two-level house constructed as part of the church's home rebuilding program.

"I

feel so much gratitude to be able to live in a home such as this," he

said, pointing to the many columns that support his roof and walls. "I

have learned to have confidence in the Lord."

The

rebuilding project has benefited more than the members who lost homes.

A public primary school in Pisco was all but demolished in the quake,

leaving children in the area with nowhere to attend school. The church

decided to rebuild the San Miguel School. Today the neighborhood kids

attend class in a sturdy two-winged, red-walled campus.

"The students are proud to call San Miguel their school," said administrator Juan Francisco Murguia.

As

he tours many of the homes that he helped build during the project,

engineer Rolando Castilla said the construction effort was not defined

by bricks, rebar and concrete.

"This," he said, "was spiritual work."


E-mail: jswensen@desnews.com.Swensen covered the earthquake in Peru for the Deseret News in the days following the Aug. 15, 2007, disaster.