At least 60 die in Nicaraguan tidal waves

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Masachapa - Splintered huts and buildings littered a 200-mile stretch of Nicaragua's coast following a number of tidal waves that killed at least 60 people and left thousands homeless. More than 100 were missing, and rescue workers expected the death toll to rise.

A huge earthquake at sea caused a wall of water up to 40ft high to sweep over a 125- mile stretch of the Nicaraguan coast. It submerged islands and rolled more than half a mile inland in some spots, destroying beachfront homes and hotels and scattering wrecked boats and cars. The surge of water sucked people and small buildings out to sea as it retreated.

Nicaragua's government appealed urgently for international aid. 'The sea took us by surprise. All of sudden, I was swimming inside my own home, and all my furniture was floating around me,' said Socorro Lopez, 47, who lost two grandchildren in Masachapa, a beach resort of about 2,000 people south of the capital, Managua. 'This huge wave swallowed us house and all. Now I'll never be able to bring my grandchildren back,' she said, sobbing, as the recovered bodies of the four-year-old boy and two- year-old girl were laid out nearby. Eight of the nine confirmed dead in Masachapa were children.

In Geneva, UN officials said the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies reported at least 64 dead. They said the UN would release dollars 30,000 ( pounds 15,000) to buy urgent supplies.

The missing included at least 12 fishermen lost at sea near Masachapa, Red Cross officials said. The earthquake, which registered 7 on the Richter scale was centered 75 miles south-west of Managua, according to the US National Earthquake Information Centre. Aftershocks followed, and the centre said they could continue for days but probably would not cause damage. Authorities evacuated thousands of people from coastal areas and ambulances sped through towns picking up the injured and dying. The earthquake was among the most damaging to hit Nicaragua since a 1972 earthquake measuring 6.2 on the Richter scale devastated the capital, killing 5,000 people.

The tidal wave smashed into dozens of communities from Corinto, 50 miles northwest of Managua, to San Juan del Sur, on the Costa Rican border in the south. Danilo Brenes, a resident of Masachapa, said he was walking along the beach when he saw the wall of water coming. 'I yelled to my wife and we took off running. We barely made it,' he said. Managua felt the earthquake, but no damage was reported there.

(Photograph omitted)