First Lady Pat Nixon embraces homeless children during her visit to earthquake ravaged areas in Peru, June 1970.
On June 8, 1970, President Nixon delivered a statement about the devastating earthquake that struck Peru a week prior on May 31. In the statement, the President pledged the United States’ full support for devastated areas in Peru.
The people of the United States stand ready with the peoples of all the American nations to respond to the requests of our sister Republic of Peru in this time of its great need. We are prepared not only to help with what Peru may need today, but also to aid in the long and arduous task of rebuilding an entire region of that nation.
Upon hearing of the Great Peruvian Earthquake–an earthquake that took the lives of 80,000 Peruvians and left another 80,000 homeless–First Lady Pat Nixon immediately took it upon herself to spearhead humanitarian efforts in the devastated regions of Peru.
On June 28, 1970, Mrs. Nixon boarded Air Force One, loaded with approximately ten tons of food, clothing, and medical supplies gathered by volunteer and relief organizations over the past three weeks. As First Lady but in a non-governmental capacity, she would personally make an unprecedented journey to the country of Peru extending the highest form of support from the United States.
President Nixon and Mrs. Nixon survey humanitarian supplies aboard Air Force One before Mrs. Nixon’s departure to Peru.
Mrs. Nixon toured damaged areas of Peru, conversed with and embraced the homeless, and climbed hills of rubble as she observed firsthand the degree of destruction caused by the 7.8 magnitude earthquake and ensuing landslide that practically buried the towns of Huaraz, Anta, and Yungay.
Pat Nixon and First Lady of Peru Mrs. Velasco tour the aftermath of the Great Peruvian Earthquake.
Her disregard for personal safety and the bountiful compassion she showed to the villagers in the devastated towns garnered worldwide respect for Mrs. Nixon. Furthermore, with this one trip, Mrs. Nixon improved the diplomatic relationship between the United States and Peru. For her efforts, Ambassador of Peru to the United States Fernando Berckemeyer presented Mrs. Nixon with his country’s highest decoration–the Grand Cross of the Order of the Sun.
Watch footage of First Lady Pat Nixon receiving this decoration as well as footage of the First Lady touring damaged areas of Peru during her humanitarian mission: