Colombia quake leaves 150 dead

AT LEAST 150 people are feared dead and hundreds injured in a devastating earthquake which shook western Colombia yesterday. The tremor hit hardest in the cities of Armenia and Pereira, in Colombia's coffee- growing region, about 100 miles west of the capital, Bogota.

As night fell on the region rescue crews struggled to pull survivors from crumpled buildings - some working with only their hands to pull away the rubble. "Our city has ceased to be," said Alvaro Patino, the mayor of Armenia. In a shaken voice he told how buildings had crumbled across the city.

"It's impossible to measure the size of the catastrophe," said Mr Patino, calling for people to help each other survive. He also asked for national and international assistance.

The Mayor said that a curfew would be imposed at 6pm to control the looting which, he said, had already begun. He said the city did not have the resources to deal with the thousands of people left homeless, who gathered in the city's central plaza as night fell, awaiting assistance and shelter.

"It looks like the city has been bombarded," said Carlos Arturo Lopez, governor of Risaralda, the state of which Pereira is the capital.

The governor had passed over the region in a helicopter, and reported that entire neighbourhoods had been reduced to ruins. The epicentre of the quake, which registered six on the Richter scale, was to the west of Armenia.

The tremor started at 1.20pm and lasted for approximately 50 seconds. It was felt for at least 15 seconds in the capital. In the small city of Ulloa, located closest to the epicentre, preliminary reports said that every single building had been razed to the ground.

Even as the damage from the quake was being assessed a strong aftershock - registering 5.6 on the Richter scale - hit the region causing additional damages at 5.40pm. "The [second] quake has people totally terrorised ," said Luis Alberto Duque, the mayor of Pereira.

Communications with the area were rendered nearly impossible and widespread power cuts were reported.

Fire-fighters and police struggled to control burning buildings, but in Armenia the police and fire stations were themselves destroyed.

In the south of the city hillside slums were devastated, as houses made of thin clay bricks collapsed. Residents feared the nearby prison had also been destroyed too. Colombian television showed images of people pulling rubble off crumpled buildings where victims, including children, were trapped, screaming for help.

Calls went out across the country for blood donors, as well as doctors, health workers and engineers.

By early afternoon blood supplies had already been exhausted in Armenia. Relief agencies also appealed for food, clothing, temporary shelters and electric generators.

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