World

Death toll in Peruvian earthquake rises to 510

The death toll from a magnitude-8 earthquake that rocked Peru's coast near the capital of Lima reached 510 on Thursday, according to the deputy chief of Peru's fire department.

Thedeath toll from a magnitude-8 earthquake that rocked Peru's coast nearthe capitalof Lima reached 510 on Thursday, a governmentofficial said Friday

RobertoOgnio, a deputy fire chief,presented a report saying the death toll from the quake had increased to 510 from 450, but did not specify where the additional 60 deaths occurred.

Earlier on Thursday,the UN's assistant secretary-general, Margareta Wahlström, told reporters in New York to expect the number of lives lost to "continue to go up since the destruction of the houses in this area is quite total."

Lima residents watch as firefighters battle a blaze that broke out after an earthquake hit the area Wednesday. ((Hector Vinces/Agencia Andina/Associated Press))

Dead bodies covered in dust were strewn in streets and doctors called off a national strikein order to help treat themore than 1,500injured in hospitals across the country.

The quake struck at 6:41 p.m local time on Wednesday near Lima, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. On Thursday, the centre upgraded the disaster from a magnitude of 7.9 to 8, and also indicated that at least 14 aftershocks of magnitude 5 or greater followed.

Ica,a city of 650,000 peoplethat's 265 kilometres southeast of the capital, wasthe hardest hit by the quake, as 17people were killed when a church collapsed.

Police, soldiers and doctors rushed to Ica, but there were reports that traffic wasbackedupon the Pan American Highwaybecause of giant cracks in the pavement and fallen power lines.

200 buried under rubble of church

Juan Mendoz, mayor of the town of Pisco, told a local radio station that"the dead are scattered by the dozens on the streets."

He said at least 200 people were buried under the rubble of a church that collapsed while they were attending a religious service.

"We don't have lights, water, communications. Most houses have fallen, churches, stores, hotels, everything is destroyed," Mendoza said, sobbing.

In Toronto, the Peruvian consulate reported a flood of phone callsfrom expatriatestrying to help their home country.

Pedro Rey, Peru's consul general in Toronto, said his office has started a bank account for peoplefor donationsfor those affected in Peru.The accountat the Royal Bank is called Sismo Peru 2007.

The consulate is also putting together a list of items needed, including clothing, blankets and medicine.

Quake prompts tsunami warnings

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.

Several hours later, President Alan Garcia said in a nationwide broadcast thatthe quake apparently had not caused a catastrophe.Butheordered all police personnel to the streets of Lima to keep order.

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 AP reporter said tremors shook the city for more than a minute.

Erring on the side of caution

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

Despite the cancellation ofthe warning,Colombian President Alvaro Uribe said he was erring on the side of caution, and late Wednesday ordered residents in the country'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 said at a news conference.

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

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

The quake also knocked out telephone service and mobile phone service in the capital. Firefighters were called to put out a fire in a shopping centre. State doctors called off a national strike that began on Wednesday to handle the emergency.

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

With files from the Associated Press