But because the firefighters are volunteers, a quake’s timing could influence rescue efforts.
‘‘If you go to a fire station at 10 in the morning there’s hardly anyone there,’’ said Gonzalez, who advocates a full-time professional force.
In the next two months, Lima will spend nearly $2 million on the three fire companies that cover downtown Lima, its first direct investment in firefighters in 25 years, Prado said. The national government is spending $18 million citywide for 50 new fire trucks and ambulances.
But where would the ambulances go?
A 1997 study by the Pan American Health Organization found that three of Lima’s principal public hospitals would likely collapse in a major quake, but nothing has been done to reinforce them.
And there are no free beds. One public hospital, Maria Auxiliadora, serves more than 1.2 million people in Lima’s south but has just 400 beds, and they are always full.
Contingency plans call for setting up mobile hospitals in tents in city parks. But Gonzalez said only about 10,000 injured could be treated.
Water is also a worry. The fire threat to Lima is severe — from refineries to densely-backed neighborhoods honeycombed with colonial-era wood and adobe. Lima’s firefighters often can’t get enough water pressure to douse a blaze.
‘‘We should have places where we can store water not just to put out fires but also to distribute water to the population,’’ said Sato, former head of the disaster mitigation department at Peru’s National Engineering University.
The city’s lone water-and-sewer utility can barely provide water to one-tenth of Lima in the best of times.
Another big concern: Lima has no emergency operations center and the radio networks of the police, firefighters and the Health Ministry, which runs city hospitals, use different frequencies, hindering effective communication.
Nearly half of the city’s schools require a detailed evaluation to determine how to reinforce them against collapse, Sato said.
A recent media blitz, along with three nationwide quake-tsunami drills this year, helped raise consciousness. The city has spent more than $77 million for retention walls and concrete stairs to aid evacuation in hillside neighborhoods, Prado said, but much more is needed.
At the biggest risk, apart from tsunami-vulnerable Callao, are places like Nueva Rinconada.
A treeless moonscape in the southern hills, it is a haven for economic refugees who arrive daily from Peru’s countryside and cobble together precarious homes on lots they scored into steep hillsides with pickaxes.
Engineers who have surveyed Nueva Rinconada call its upper reaches a death trap. Most residents understand this but say they have nowhere else to go.
Water arrives in tanker trucks at $1 per 200 liters (52 gallons) but is unsafe to drink unless boiled. There is no sanitation; people dig their own latrines. There are no streetlamps, and visibility is erased at night as Lima’s bone-chilling fog settles into the hills.
Homes of wood, adobe and straw matting rest on piled-rock foundations that engineers say will crumble and rain down on people below in a major quake.
A recently built concrete retaining wall at the valley’s head lies a block beneath the thin-walled wood home of Hilarion Lopez, a 55-year-old janitor and community leader. It might keep his house from sliding downhill, but boulders resting on uphill slopes could shake loose and crush him and his neighbors.
‘‘We've made holes and poured concrete around some of the more unstable boulders,’’ he says, squinting uphill in a strong late morning sun.
He’s not so worried if a quake strikes during daylight.
‘‘But if I get caught at night? How do I see a rock?’’
Associated Press writer Franklin Briceno contributed to this report.
Frank Bajak on Twitter: http://twitter.com/fbajak