Deadly quake rattles Peru

A 7.9-magnitude earthquake that hit near Peru's capital Wednesday night killed at least 15 people, officials said.

Tsunami warning cancelled

A 7.9-magnitude earthquake that hit near Peru's capital Wednesday night killed at least 15 people, officials said.

Health Minister Carlos Vallejos said there were 15 confirmed deaths in southern Peru, but Civil Defence put the death toll at 22 without providing details.

The U.S. Geological Survey reported Wednesday that the quake struck at 6:41 p.m. local time nearthe Peruvian capital of Lima.

Several hours later, President Alan Garcia said in a nationwide broadcast that it apparently had not caused a catastrophe.

"Thank you God Almighty, these terrible quakes did not cause a high death toll like in other years," he said.

The force of the quakeprompted tsunami warnings on South America's central Pacific coast, but the PacificTsunami Warning Centerlater cancelled the warnings and watches, saying while the temblor generated a tsunami, it was only a 25-centimetre wave.

"It wasn't big enough tobe destructive," said Stuart Weinstein, assistant director at the centre.

The quake's epicentre was160 kilometres southeast of Lima and about 40 kilometres northwest of the town of Chincha Alta.

Reports said tremors shook buildings in Lima, sending terrified workers fleeing into the streets in a chaotic scene. Some homes in the centre of the capital collapsed, according to an Associated Press photographer who witnessed the scene.

Fourstrong aftershocks that ranged inmagnitude from 5.8 to 5.9 followed soon after, witnesses said. One Associated Press reporter said tremors shook the city for more than a minute.

Basedon the strength of the earthquake, the Hawaii-based Pacific Tsunami Warning Center had earlier issued a regional tsunami warning for Peru, Ecuador, Chile, Colombia.

Despite the cancellation ofthe warning,Colombian President Alvaro Uribe said he was erring on the side of caution and late Wednesday ordered residents in Colombia's southernmost city, Tumaco, near the border with Ecuador, to head for higher ground.

"The reports we received about a possible tsunami are contradictory," Uribe told reporters at a press conference.

The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center had also extended a tsunami advisory for the state of Hawaii, but that waslater rescinded as well.

Homes destroyed near epicentre

Blackoutsaffected parts of several cities in southern Peru, according to citizens who phoned in reports to the country's main news station, Radio Programas.

Inthe town of Pisco, near the earthquake's epicentre, several shabbily built homes were levelled, Reuters reported.

As ambulance sirens wailed in the night, firefighters in one district in Lima were called to douse a blaze that had eruptedat a shopping mall.

Some phone and mobile service was cut in Lima.

The quake hitabout 47 kilometres below the earth's surface.

With files from the Associated Press