Over 500 killed in Peru worst earthquake in decades

Panic and desperation invaded Peru as the worst earthquake in more than 30 years killed over 500 people and left as much as 1,500 injured on Wednesday evening. The Ica region, 265 kilometers southeast of capital Lima, was the hardest hit by the magnitude-7.9 temblor, which happened at about 6:41 p.m. local time.

A state of emergency was declared and countries such as Mexico and Panama pledged aid. It was the world's most powerful quake since a magnitude-8.1 temblor struck off the Solomon Islands in April, triggering a tsunami that killed 54 people.

As the epicenter of the earthquake was registered in the Pacific Ocean, some 170 kilometers from the coast line, tsunami alerts were also triggered. More than 10 aftershocks of magnitude 5 or greater hit the area, including a magnitude-6.3 tremor on Thursday just after midnight, the U.S. Geological Survey said on its Web site. The temblor was the largest earthquake in Peru since 1974

All the injured and all except one of the dead came from Ica, where a hospital was destroyed and four were damaged, the agency said. One person died in Lima. At least 60 people died in Ica, Mayor Mariano Quispe told the Radioprogramas station.

The Civil Defense Institute said its casualty figures, which were compiled from regional information, were preliminary. Electricity supplies and telephone and Internet connections to the affected areas were cut by the quake, adding to difficulties in determining the scale of the disaster.

According to the Institute, as much as 70% of the city of Pisco, in the Ica region, was leveled by the quake. Nearly 200 people one of the cities closest to the quake's epicenter, Pisco, were trapped under the rubble of a Roman Catholic church, which crumbled during evening mass. Also Ica's 16th century Senor de Luren church, one of the oldest in the Americas, collapsed during Mass.

Police and state hospitals were placed on emergency status and schools closed Thursday, Peruvian President Alan Garcia said in a broadcast late yesterday on Radioprogramas. Garcia held an emergency session of his Cabinet at the presidential palace late Wednesday. Emergency services reviewed schools, roads and bridges for damage.

In Lima, where telephone communications collapsed and electricity supply was hardly maintained, the temblor led to panic among citizens and visible damages to buildings.

Hospitals were overflowing with the injured in the southern towns of Chincha, Canete and Ica, according to state news agency Andina. “There are bodies laying everywhere in the streets and in hospitals. This is a complete disaster”, said Pisco Mayor, Juan Mendoza Uribe.

Fishermen battled heavy seas to drag their launches onto dry land south of Lima in response to a tsunami alert. The quake set off tsunami signals and advisories for Peru, Colombia, Panama, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Guatemala, El Salvador, Mexico, Honduras and Hawaii. The alerts were later canceled.

The quake was felt as far north as Colombia's capital, Bogota, and as far south as Coquimbo, Chile, about 2,000 kilometers from Lima. There were no reports of injuries or property damage, the Chilean Interior Ministry's National Emergency Office said on its Web site.

In Buenos Aires, Argentina, hundreds of Peruvian immigrants lined at telephone cabins to get information about their relatives. In the Chilean city of Santiago, dozens of passengers were stranded at the airport after Gol Linhas Aereas Inteligentes SA, Brazil's second-largest airline, canceled a flight to Lima because of the quake, Television Nacional reported.

Hernan Etchaleco

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Author`s name Alex Naumov