An earthquake devastated the mountain city of Popayan Thursday,...


BOGOTA, Colombia -- An earthquake devastated the mountain city of Popayan Thursday, toppling schools, homes and churches filled with tourists and worshippers for Holy Week. At least 100 people were killed and 1,150 were injured.

Unconfirmed radio reports said up to 60 percent of the city was destroyed and indicated the death toll could double or triple.


Two light aftershocks at night frightened anew many residents who refused to re-enter their homes which collapsed sporadically through the day.

Tens of thousands of people were reported homeless. Water and power lines were cut and three fires erupted but they were quickly brought under control, police said.

The runway of the city airport was closed by debris until late afternoon and small aircraft and helicopters began shuttling in water, food, medicine and supplies of clothing, officials said.

Seismic waves also tore open fresh graves in the city cemetery, sending a foul odor over the destruction.


Stray dogs reportedly had begun chewing on bodies and army marksmen wearing gas masks were sent to kill the animals before they can spread disease, Red Cross officials said.

Three blocks were demolished and 15 buildings elsewhere collapsed from the quake, which measured 5.5 on the Richter scale and was centered 60 miles west of the city nestled at the foot of an active volcano, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

A high school, the city hall, the national telecommunications building and several hotels were heavily damaged and the spires of the town cathedral and the Santo Domingo church collapsed on hundreds of parishoners.

Rescuers pulled 60 bodies out of the churches, but Msgr. Samuel Silverio Buitrago, the archbishop of Popayan, said in a radio broadcast 'most of the people are still trapped inside.'

The office of President Belisario Betancur said reports from the Red Cross and Civil Defense workers confirmed at least 100 people were killed and 1,150 others were hurt in the city 235 miles south of Bogota.

'We are dedicating all our energies to this tragedy,' Bentacur said in a visit to the city. Amalia Salazar, governor of the department of Cauca, said 51 of the dead had been identified and 49 others remained unidentified.


There were no reports of Americans among the casualties but Jim Corey, naval attache of the U.S. Embassy, flew to Popayan with hasilty purchased supplies of food and clothing and began looking for tourists.

Popayan is known worldwide for its Holy Week celebration that swells its local population of 125,000 people to 200,000.

About 1,000 Americans and Europeans were believed in the town to attend the annual religious music festival, services and evening candle-light processions of Holy Week.

Four professors of musical performance from Columbia University in New York were scheduled to play during evening services at the colonial-era San Francisco church, which was reported slightly damaged.

They were not injured and were evacuated safely to neighboring Cali, said Fred Knubel, public information director for the university.

'Our Telecom building (national telecommunications service) was split in two and traffic in all the downtown area has been suspended,' said Maria Dolores Gaitan, a Popayan telephone operator.

'People were wandering around wounded in their pajamas because the earthquake caught us all in the morning.'

The city's 200-bed San Jose hospital was soon filled to capacity and authorities prepared other building to receive casualties.

The state-run radio reported unspecified damage and injuries in the nearby towns of Piendamo and Cajibio.


It was the most serious earthquake in Colombia since December 1979 when 700 died and thousands were wounded along the Pacific coast.

In the shadow of the Purace volcano, Popayan is renowned for its colonial-era churches, monasteries and parks. The 15,604-foot high Purace volcano erupted last in 1977.

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