A powerful earthquake shook Peru’s coast, killing at least 17 people as it toppled buildings and caused hundreds to flee office buildings.
Authorities said the quake had generated a tsunami of undetermined size.
Cable news station Canal N reported that the 7.9 magnitude quake had caused a church to collapse in the city of Ica south of Peru’s capital Lima, killing 17 people and injuring 70.
The Hawaii-based Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre issued a tsunami warning for the coasts of Peru, Chile, Ecuador, Colombia, Costa Rica and Panama.
A tsunami watch was issued for the rest of Central America and Mexico.
It also issued a tsunami advisory for the US state of Hawaii.
“Sea level readings indicate a tsunami was generated,” the centre said on its website.
It did not report the tsunami’s size, but said it could be large enough to “be destructive along coasts near the earthquake epicentre and could also be a threat to more distant coasts”.
The US Geological Survey said the 7.9 magnitude earthquake hit about 90 miles (145 kilometres) southeast of Lima at a depth of about 25 miles (41 kilometres).
Four strong aftershocks ranging from magnitudes of 5.4 to 5.9 were felt afterwards, the USGS said.
The quake struck at 6.40pm local time (00.40am Irish time).
An Associated Press photographer said that homes had collapsed in the centre of Lima and that many people had fled into the streets for safety. The capital shook for more than a minute.
Firefighters quoted in radio reports said that lamp posts collapsed and windows shattered in Lima but did not specify if there were any injuries.
Hundreds of workers were evacuated from Lima office buildings after the quake struck and remained outside, fearing aftershocks
Callers to Radioprogramas, Peru’s main news radio station, said parts of several cities in southern Peru had been hit with blackouts.
Callers reported homes in poor neighbourhoods in Chincha and Cerro Azul had collapsed.
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 yesterday to handle the emergency.
In Colombia, President Alvaro Uribe ordered the partial evacuation of the southern city of Tumaco in response to a tsunami warning.
In a press conference, Uribe said residents living along the coastal areas of Tumaco, Colombia’s southernmost city near the border with Ecuador, should immediately move to higher ground as a preventive measure in case a tsunami strikes.
“The reports we received about a possible tsunami are contradictory so we’ve asked that, according to emergency disaster plans, authorities immediately begin the partial evacuation of Tumaco,” said Uribe.
The last time a quake of magnitude 7.0 or larger struck Peru’s central coast was in 1974 when a magnitude 7.6 hit in October followed by a 7.2 a month later.
The latest Peru quake occurred in a subduction zone where one section of the Earth’s crust dives under another, said USGS geophysicist Dale Grant at the National Earthquake Information Centre in Golden, Colorado.
Some of the world’s biggest quakes strike in subduction zones including the catastrophic Indian Ocean temblor in 2004 that generated deadly tsunami waves.