LIMA, PERU, MAY 30 -- A powerful earthquake shook northern Peru, killing more than 100 people and injuring hundreds more, officials said today.
Dozens of aftershocks rocked the area on the western fringe of the Amazon basin, panicking residents dazed by the main quake Tuesday night, which measured 5.8 on the open-ended Richter scale.
Amateur radio operators and officials in the region said they feared as many as 200 were dead and hundreds missing, but there was no confirmation of those figures. A radio operator in the town of Moyobamba, near the quake's epicenter, said civil defense officials there had reported at least 100 people dead from the quake.
"The earth is shaking again, and people are panicking. Houses and buildings have been leveled," said a reporter for Lima's Radio Programas in Moyobamba, about 80 miles south of the quake's epicenter in the Amazon rain forest.
Officials in Moyobamba, an impoverished agricultural town, said the death toll could rise far higher. They said there were fragmentary reports of mudslides caused by the quake burying four remote villages in the jungle, including one hamlet known as Huayabamba where about 100 people lived.
"The village of Achamal has been almost wiped from the map, and the situation is similar in three other communities," said Oscar Altamirano, president of the regional state development agency. Between 300 and 800 people live in Achamal.
He said avalanches of mud and rock and trees uprooted by the quake had cut roads into the province, about 430 miles north of Lima. The blocked roads -- exacerbated by heavy rains -- were hampering rescue efforts today.
An army jet loaded with 126 tons of food, medicines, and blankets left Lima for the quake zone, an army spokesman said.
The quake occurred two days before Peruvian officials planned to hold memorial ceremonies to mark the 20th anniversary of earthquakes and mudslides that killed between 30,000 and 50,000 people. The mudslides caused by the quake on May 31, 1970, buried the northern city of Yungay, where Tuesday's quake was felt slightly.
Hospitals in Moyobamba filled with about 300 people suffering fractures, head injuries and bruises, said civil defense and health authorities from the town, which is the capital of Rodriguez de Mendoza province.
The quake was felt across a wide swath of northern Peru.
"Houses, buildings and schools have been destroyed. Cracks have opened in the earth," said the Radio Programas reporter.
The quake was followed by at least 20 aftershocks.
Health authorities appealed for food and medicines for the quake survivors, saying they were preparing emergency flights to the poor, agricultural region where many farmers make their living by growing coca, the raw material for cocaine.
The quake hit hardest in the town of Soritor, where at least 50 people died, including a family of seven crushed to death when the 48-second quake toppled their house, civil defense authorities said on Lima radio from Moyobamba.
Seven people died in Moyobamba, plus 25 people in Rioja and 19 in Nueva Cajamarca, two nearby towns, civil defense officials said.