At least 48 killed as powerful quake rattles Peru

Lima : A magnitude 7.9 earthquake and dozens of aftershocks shook central coastal Peru, killing at least 48 people and destroying homes, local media reported Thursday.
At least 350 people were injured in the Wednesday quake, the reports said, citing local officials.

At least 20 people died and 200 were injured in the province of Ica alone, Lima newspapers reported.

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Damage was extensive there as well as in the provinces of Canete and Chincha, identified by the Peruvian Geophysical Institute as the epicentre of the quake. Houses had collapsed and people were taken to hospital, news reports said.

In Ica, a church collapsed and many of the city’s fatalities were caused when its cupola fell.

In Lima, where residents panicked and fled into the streets, one hospital said they were receiving patients. Some bore injuries from broken glass. Telephone services were also cut.

The quake was felt not only along Peru’s coast but also in the country’s Andean region and rainforests and into Ecuador and Brazil.

The full extent of the damage and casualties were not yet known, but the Health Ministry put all of Peru’s hospitals on emergency alert.

The quake, the strongest Peru has seen in more than 30 years, prompted the Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre to issue a warning for the west coast of South America. Before the notice was cancelled a few hours after the quake hit, evacuations of coastal communities were ordered in Peru and Colombia.

A witness in Lima, Fernando Calderon, told CNN that the ground rumbled for two minutes before a large shake came. People fled into the streets for safety from high-rise buildings. Many people were preparing to sleep in their cars in the midst of the Peruvian winter.

The tsunami warning affected Peru, Chile, Ecuador and Colombia. Lesser tsunami warnings – called a watch – were issued for Panama, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Guatemala, El Salvador, Mexico and Honduras.

The tsunami centre anticipated trouble because some of the temblors were rather shallow, at a depth of 30 or 40 km, and more likely to cause ocean waves.

Geological experts said a small wave was generated by the quake and was detected in the open ocean, but it was not large enough to cause damage, prompting the tsunami warnings and watches to be withdrawn.

The US Geological Survey measured the initial quake at 7.9 on the Richter scale while Peru’s Institute for Geophysics measured it at 7.5.

The initial, most powerful shock struck at 23.41 GMT Wednesday and sent about two minutes of tremors running from its epicentre off the coast near the city of Pisco, about 45 km west-north-west of Chincha Alta, Peru, and 145 km south-south-east of Lima, the US Geological Survey said. Its depth was about 41 km.

Shudders ranging from magnitude 5.8 to 7.5 and as deep as 178 km followed in its wake.

President Alan Garcia appealed for calm, closed schools and stepped up police patrols.

A woman reached via telephone in Lima told CNN that it was the “most terrifying experience” her family had ever had.

They had fled their building and public warning systems had warned of a possible tsunami, she said.