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Minor damage in Latin America by Japan's tsunami

by Staff Writers
Lima (AFP) March 12, 2011
Large tsunami waves from Japan's powerful earthquake destroyed some coastal buildings in Peru and caused some flooding early Saturday, but otherwise had little effect on Latin America's Pacific nations.

Authorities were studying the impact from the tsunami unleashed by the devastating 8.9 magnitude quake that hit Friday in Japan.

Civil defense officials in Peru had ordered the evacuation of Pisco and Paracas, two towns south of Lima that suffered the effects of a tsunami triggered by a powerful earthquake in 2007, as well as Camana, struck by a tsunami in 2001.

In the town of Pueblo Nuevo de Colan, in the far northern Piura region, the ocean withdrew some 200 meters from the beach early Saturday before returning with force and destroying several seaside homes, said Mayor Raymundo Dioses.

In the southern port of Pisco, the ocean surged into the town square and damaged about 300 houses.

Around 400 people spent the night in tents in a downtown plaza, Pisco Mayor Jesus Echegaray told AFP.

The first tsunami waves measured nearly 1.5 meters at their highest when they hit around 0050 GMT Saturday, the Peruvian navy said.

Major tsunamis revive memories in Peru of a devastating 1687 tsunami that destroyed Callao -- the country's main port just west of Lima -- along with dozens of coastal towns.

Preparing for the worst, prison authorities emptied a Callao maximum security prison holding Shining Path founder Abimael Guzman, senior Tupac Amaru guerrilla leaders, and Vladimiro Montesinos, a jailed top aide to disgraced ex-president Alberto Fujimori.

Prison officials said the inmates would be back at the maximum security facility on Saturday.

In Ecuador, the country's state-run oil company, Petroecuador, said Saturday it resumed oil crude exports and fuel imports at 0500 GMT after suspending operations Friday due to the tsunami threat.

President Rafael Correa on Saturday reported "minimum damage" from the tsunami and no casualties.

A storm surge hit the island of San Cristobal in Ecuador's Galapagos Island chain some 1,000 kilometers (600 miles) west of the mainland and caused some flooding, Correa said.

Officials had ordered nearly 243,000 people evacuated from coastal areas of Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands.

Further south in Chile -- still recovering from the 8.8 magnitude earthquake and tsunami that struck the country in late February 2010 -- President Sebastian Pinera said a coastal evacuation he ordered saved lives.

"When it comes to human lives, it is always better to act preventatively," Pinera said Saturday after suspending a tsunami alert.

Most of the 524 people who died in the 2010 Chile quake were killed by giant waves that swept away coastal hamlets. Critics blasted the government for delays in issuing tsunami warnings and ordering evacuations.

Pinera on Friday ordered an evacuation of coastal areas along Chile's 4,000 kilometer (2,500 mile) coastline and on the Easter Islands, a tourist attraction some 3,500 kilometers (2,200 miles) from the mainland.

On Saturday he visited Dichato, some 400 kilometers south of Santiago, a town already heavily damaged by the 2010 quake.

The tsunami waves pushed in some 100 meters (yards) inland in Dichato, and ten boats were damaged and around 20 were detached from their moorings in the nearby island of Chiloe, officials said.

Mexico reported waves up to 70 centimeters (2.3 feet) above normal, but no damage or victims.

The only known death in the hemisphere was an American who was swept away while trying to take pictures at a beach in California.

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