Powerful earthquake rattles Peru, killing 510

Updated: 2007-08-17 14:44

A boy injured during an earthquake that hit the area late Wednesday, receives medical attention at a public hospital in Lima, Thursday, Aug. 16, 2007. [AP]

PISCO, Peru -- The death toll rose to 510 on Thursday in the magnitude-8 earthquake that devastated cities of adobe and brick in Peru's southern desert. Survivors wearing blankets walked like ghosts through the ruins.

Dust-covered dead were pulled out and laid in rows in the streets, or beneath bloodstained sheets at damaged hospitals and morgues. Doctors struggled to help more than 1,500 injured, including hundreds who waited on cots in the open air, fearing more aftershocks would send the structures crashing down.

Destruction was centered in Peru's southern desert, at the oasis city of Ica and the nearby port of Pisco, about 125 miles southeast of the capital, Lima.

The deputy chief of Peru's fire department, Roberto Ognio, presented a report saying the death toll from the quake had risen to 510. He did not say where the additional 60 deaths had occurred.

Earlier Thursday, the United Nations said the official toll of 450 dead was expected to rise.

"It is quite likely that the numbers will continue to go up since the destruction of the houses in this area is quite total," said UN Assistant Secretary-General Margareta Wahlstrom.

The San Clemente church in the main plaza of the gritty fishing port of Pisco was perhaps the single deadliest spot in the magnitude-8 earthquake, which devastated cities and hamlets of adobe and brick across Peru's southern desert.

Hundreds had gathered in the pews of the San Clemente church Wednesday - the day Roman Catholics celebrate the Virgin Mary's rise into heaven - for a special mass marking one month since the death of a Pisco man.

The church ceiling began to break apart as the shaking began and lasted for an agonizing two minutes, burying 200 people, according to the town's mayor. On Thursday, only two stone columns and the church's dome rose from a giant pile of stone, bricks, wood and dust.

Rescuers pulled out bodies all day and lined them up on the plaza - at least 60 by late afternoon.

"The dead are scattered by the dozens on the streets," Pisco Mayor Juan Mendoza told Lima radio station CPN, sobbing. "We don't have lights, water, communications. Most houses have fallen. Churches, stores, hotels - everything is destroyed."

Rescue worker Jose Nez, who went into the church wreckage dozens of times, said rescuers would keep it up "until the end," as a mechanical shovel cleared away chunks of adobe.

As dusk fell, Health Minister Carlos Vallejos said finding survivors seems increasingly unlikely.

"We keep losing hope of finding someone alive after 24 hours have passed" since the quake struck, Vallejos told The Associated Press outside of the church.

But around 6:30 pm, almost 24 hours since the quake struck, a man who identified himself only as "Alfredo" was pulled from the rubble by six firemen.

Some 17 people died inside a church in Ica, the Canal N cable news station said. The historic Senor de Luren church was among several heavily damaged in Ica, where at least 57 bodies were taken to the morgue.

The earthquake's magnitude was raised from 7.9 to 8 on Thursday by the US Geological Survey. At least 14 aftershocks of magnitude 5 or greater followed. The tremors caused renewed anxiety, though there were no reports of additional damage or injuries.

President Alan Garcia flew by helicopter to Ica, a city of 120,000 where a quarter of the buildings collapsed, and declared a state of emergency. He said flights were reaching Ica to take in aid and take out the injured. Government doctors called off their national strike for higher pay to handle the emergency.

      1   2   3   4     

Top World News  
Today's Top News  
Most Commented/Read Stories in 48 Hours