Earthquake Rattles Peru's Central Coast, Killing Hundreds

LIMA, Peru, August 16, 2007 (ENS) - A powerful earthquake struck Peru's central coast at 18:40 local time Wednesday, shaking buildings in the capital, prompting a tsunami warning, killing hundreds of people and injuring at least 1,500 others. More deaths and injuries are being reported hourly.

Peru's Health Minister Carlos Vallejos said in a radio broadcast early Thursday that the quake had claimed at least 115 lives.

The nation's civil defense agency, which is in charge of rescue efforts, then said on its website that more than 330 people have died.

Later this afternoon, Roberto Ognio, deputy chief of Peru's fire department, said the death toll from the quake had risen to 510.

The quake caused cars to jump and shattered windows of some downtown Lima buildings. People fled into the streets of Lima, and communities closer to the epicenter, near the hardest hit city of Ica, a city of 650,000 people located 165 miles southeast of the capital.

Many Lima residents chose to bed down outside after the quake shook their homes. (Photo credit unknown)

The quake measured magnitude 7.9, according to the U.S. Geological Survey, and four strong aftershocks were felt following the main quake.

The epicenter was placed at about 90 miles southeast of Lima at a depth of about 25 miles, according to the Geophysics Institute of Peru.

The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center had issued a tsunami warning for 11 South and Central American countries immediately after the earthquake hit, but withdrew it after two hours.

Based in U.S. state of Hawaii, the Center said its earlier warning was canceled for all the countries originally included in its advisory - Peru, Chile, Ecuador, Colombia, Panama, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Guatemala, El Salvador, Mexico and Honduras.

Among the dead are 17 people killed in Ica when the Señor de Luren church in Ica collapsed during a church service.

The Peruvian Civil Defence System is currently setting up a situation room to respond to the emergency.

Electricity and telecommunications have been cut off in some areas and all flights from the international airport in Lima have been temporarily halted.

Shortly after the earthquakes, Peruvian President Alan Garcia Perez made a national statement confirming that all national authorities are on high alert to respond to the situation and that all health services and centers must be on red alert.

Peruvian President Alan Garcia addresses the nation after the earthquake. (Photo courtesy Office of the President)
The president requested all doctors to make themselves available and said that all services should be free of charge for all those who may need them.

President Garcia said that he will be in continuous meeting with his cabinet to find ways to assist Peruvians during this time of "anguish."

The president announced that all schools would be closed tomorrow and he urged school administrations to check the safety of their buildings before continuing classes.

The Peruvian Red Cross immediately mobilized a National Intervention Team to the region of the epicentre to evaluate the situation.

The Pan American Disaster Response Unit in Panama is on standby to send tents, blankets, jerry cans and other provisions by plane if needs are confirmed. Funds from the Federation's Disaster Relief Emergency Fund are being made available to support the response if needed.

The Chilean and Colombian Red Cross have offered their support to the National Society in Peru if needed.

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies is releasing 250,000 Swiss francs (US$205,000/ €153,000) from its Disaster Relief Emergency Fund to start mobilizing assistance for the victims of Wednesday's quake.

President George W. and First Lady Laura Bush expressed condolences to the people of Peru. A White House spokesman today said the United States stands ready to provide assistance based on the needs identified by the government of Peru, as well as United States government teams there.

There is currently a USAID team on the ground in Lima, assessing the situation and working in conjunction with the government of Peru. U.S. search and rescue teams are on standby should they be needed.

"The government of Canada is immediately providing C$2 million for relief and recovery efforts and is in the process of identifying experienced partner organizations in Peru to respond to the situation," said Minister of International Cooperation Beverley Oda.

World Bank Vice President for Latin America and the Caribbean, Pamela Cox, expressed today the institution's solidarity and condolences to the people and government of Peru for the tragic loss of lives as a result of the earthquake.

In a letter addressed to President Garcia, Cox wrote, "We are closely monitoring the situation, especially in the Ica region, which has been the hardest hit in terms of human loss."

"We are ready to support the reconstruction efforts in the way the government of Peru considers appropriate," Cox promised.

World Bank Country Director in Peru Carlos Felipe Jaramillo and his team have approached the Peruvian authorities to assess the best ways to implement this support.

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2007. All rights reserved.