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Quake kills 17 in Peru, stirs fears of tsunami

LIMA -- A powerful earthquake shook Peru's coast near the capital last night, reportedly killing at least 17 people as it toppled buildings and caused many residents to flee homes. 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 Lima, killing 17 people and injuring 70.

Health Minister Carlos Vallejos said there were 15 confirmed deaths in southern Peru, but Civil Defense put the death toll at 22 without providing details.

The US Geological Survey said the earthquake hit at 6:40 p.m. about 90 miles southeast of Lima at a depth of about 25 miles. Four strong aftershocks ranging from magnitude 5.4 to 5.9 were felt afterwards.

The Hawaii-based Pacific Tsunami Warning Center responded with a tsunami warning for the coasts of Peru, Chile, Ecuador, Colombia, Costa Rica, and Panama.

The center canceled all the alerts after about two hours, but it said the quake had caused a 10-inch tsunami near the epicenter.

President Alan Garcia of Peru sent condolences to the families of the quake's victims and said the country had narrowly escaped a major disaster.

Ambulance sirens blared in the darkened capital where store windows shattered and telephone services were cut off.

"People here hugging and crying in fear on the streets," Cristyane Marusiak, a 31-year-old resident told Reuters.