An earthquake toppled two churches packed with Holy Week worshipers and destroyed several other buildings in the southern Colombian city of Popayan yesterday. The nation's president said that more than 100 persons were killed.
"The cathedral, the churches, the convents and the university have been turned into ruins," said President Belisario Betancur, who flew to the city shortly after the quake. "The city has no running water; many neighborhoods were half destroyed."
Red Cross officials said that as many as 700 were injured. The city's only hospital was filled to capacity with quake casualties.
"I saw three fires on my way to work this morning, and people were wandering around wounded in their pajamas because the earthquake caught us all in the morning at about 8:15 a.m. EST ," Maria Dolores Gaitan, a Popayan telephone operator, said.
The quake toppled the cathedral and the downtown Santo Domingo church, trapping hundreds of worshipers, Archbishop Samuel Silverio Buitrago said in a radio broadcast yesterday afternoon.
The quake, measuring 5.5 on the Richter scale, hit the city at the peak of Holy Week festivities that each year draw tens of thousands of pilgrims and tourists.
Betancur declared a state of emergency in the city, 235 miles south of Bogota, and ordered medical supplies, blankets and tents to be rushed in.
Airport officials said runways at the city airport were damaged during the quake, the most powerful to hit Colombia since December 1979 when a quake on the Colombian-Ecuadoran border claimed 200 lives.