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Peru earthquake toll rises to 510

1,500 injured; many buried in church collapse

ICA, Peru -- The death toll rose to 510 yesterday in the magnitude-8 earthquake that devastated cities of adobe and brick in Peru's southern desert. Survivors wearing blankets against the winter cold walked like ghosts through the ruins.

Dust-covered dead were pulled out and laid in rows in the streets, or beneath bloodstained sheets at damaged hospitals and morgues. Doctors struggled to help more than 1,500 injured, including hundreds who waited on cots in the open air, fearing more aftershocks would send the structures crashing down.

Destruction was centered in Peru's southern desert, at the oasis city of Ica and the nearby port of Pisco, about 125 miles southeast of the capital, Lima.

The deputy chief of Peru's fire department, Roberto Ognio, presented a report last night saying the death toll had risen to 510.

The San Clemente church in the main plaza of Pisco was perhaps the single deadliest spot in the earthquake.

Hundreds had gathered in the pews of the San Clemente church Wednesday -- the day Roman Catholics celebrate the Virgin Mary's ascension into heaven -- for a Mass marking one month since the death of a Pisco man.

The church ceiling began to break apart as the shaking began and lasted for an agonizing two minutes, burying 200 people, according to the town's mayor. Yesterday, only two stone columns and the church's dome stood amid a giant pile of stone, bricks, and wood. Rescuers pulled out bodies all day and lined them up on the plaza, at least 60 by late afternoon. Civil defense workers zipped them into body bags. But relatives searching desperately for the missing opened the zippers, crying each time they recognized a familiar face.

Few in the traumatized crowds would talk with journalists. One man shouted at the bodies of his wife and two small daughters as they were pulled from the rubble: "Why did you go? Why?"

"The dead are scattered by the dozens on the streets," Mayor Juan Mendoza of Pisco told Lima radio station CPN, sobbing. "We don't have lights, water, communications. Most houses have fallen. Churches, stores, hotels -- everything is destroyed."

The earthquake's magnitude was raised from 7.9 to 8 yesterday by the US Geological Survey. At least 14 aftershocks of magnitude 5 or greater followed.

The tremors caused renewed anxiety, though there were no reports of additional damage or injuries.

President Alan Garcia flew by helicopter to Ica, a city of 120,000 where a quarter of the buildings collapsed, and declared a state of emergency. He said flights were reaching Ica to take in aid and take out the injured. Government doctors called off their national strike for higher pay.

"There has been a good international response even without Peru asking for it, and they've been very generous," Garcia said during a stop in Pisco, where so many buildings fell that streets were covered with small mountains of adobe bricks and broken furniture.

In Washington, President Bush offered condolences and said the United States was studying how best to send help. One American died in the quake, according to the State Department.

Electricity, water, and phone service were down in much of southern Peru. The government rushed police, soldiers, and doctors to the area, but traffic was paralyzed by giant cracks and fallen power lines on the Panamerican Highway. Large boulders also blocked Peru's Central Highway to the Andes mountains.

In Chincha, a small town near Pisco only 25 miles from the quake's epicenter, an AP Television News cameraman counted 30 bodies in a hospital patio.

Hundreds of injured lay side by side on cots on walkways and in gardens outside hospital buildings, kept outside for fear that aftershocks could topple the cracked walls.

"Our services are saturated and half of the hospital has collapsed," Dr. Huber Malma said as he single-handedly attended to dozens of patients.

The quake toppled a wall in Chincha's prison, allowing at least 600 prisoners to flee. Only 29 had been recaptured, said a national prisons official, Manuel Aguilar.

The Peruvian Red Cross arrived in Ica and Pisco 7 1/2 hours after the initial quake, about three times as long as it would normally have taken because of road damage, Red Cross official Giorgio Ferrario said.

Scientists said the quake was a "megathrust," a type of earthquake similar to the catastrophic Indian Ocean temblor in 2004 that generated deadly tsunami waves.

"Megathrusts produce the largest earthquakes on the planet," said USGS geophysicist Paul Earle.

Wednesday's quake caused a tsunami as well, but scientists expected surges of no more than 1.6 feet in faraway Japan.