MANAGUA, Nicaragua (AP) _ A freakishly powerful storm far off in the South Pacific propelled huge swells to the Americas, causing a surge of waves that battered homes and beachfront businesses from Peru to Mexico, authorities said Tuesday.

High surf kicked up as far south as northern Chile and as far north as Southern California, but no deaths or serious injuries were reported as several hundred people were evacuated in at least eight countries.

The barrage began Sunday, and the waves were beginning to weaken Tuesday afternoon, meteorologists said.

``We expect them to gradually subside over the next 24 to 48 hours,'' said Hugh Cobb, at the National Hurricane Center in Miami.

The waves resulted from a particularly intense low pressure system several hundred miles off New Zealand that caused hurricane force winds and rare snowfall at sea level. Masses of water were shoved eastward, creating unusually big waves when the swells hit the Americas.

``The storm system that generated these waves was fairly extraordinary,'' Cobb said.

The waves were not like those in a tsunami, giant swells caused by seismic shifts along the ocean floor that can be much larger and faster moving.

Crowds watched in awe as 10-foot surf pounded Southern California's beaches Tuesday. The National Weather Service posted high surf advisories from north of Los Angeles to San Diego.

In Sipacate, Guatemala, the pounding of in-rushing waves wrecked the 10-room Rancho Carrillo hotel, a few restaurants and about 50 homes, emergency officials said. The hotel had been evacuated before part of it collapsed Tuesday.

``The sea took away eight rooms and part of the restaurant, which was made of wood,'' said Brigido de Paz, the hotel manager. ``The kitchen and the rooms that were made of concrete are flooded and damaged.''

In the Mexican resort of Acapulco, waves reaching 6 feet began hitting on Monday and authorities ordered beaches closed. Knee-deep water engulfed 2 miles of the Costera Miguel Aleman, the famed boulevard running around the bay. Beachfront restaurants and nightclubs were flooded.

``The waves came up fairly high and it is definitely dangerous,'' said Areli Chavarria, concierge at the Hotel Emporio.

In neighboring Oaxaca state, waves flooded seaside restaurants and hotels along Zicatela Beach, a surfing hotspot in Puerto Escondido. Mexican soldiers evacuated 200 people and closed some 85 businesses.

Nicaraguan authorities ordered 200 people evacuated after 15-foot waves surged 100 yards up onto land, knocking down about 20 houses in Puerto Corinto, civil defense official William Rodriguez said.

Over the weekend, heavy surf wrecked 15 homes in a shantytown in Lima's port of Callao and damaged about 100 in the northern coast city of Trujillo, 300 miles northwest of the capital, National Civil Defense spokesman Jorge Arguedas said.

The Peruvian ports of Mollendo, 485 miles southeast of Lima, and Chimbote, 230 miles to the north, were also battered and officials halted shipping operations.

High surf hit as far south as Antofagasta, Chile, some 870 miles north of the capital, Santiago.

In Honduras, giant swells damaged at least 300 houses along the Gulf of Fonseca on Sunday, said emergency response official Juan Carlos Elvir. The homes were in the communities of Cedeno, Punta Raton, Marcovia and Choluteca.

At least 30 people were evacuated Monday in El Salvador, where waves up to 20 feet damaged some 20 corrugated-metal homes in Playa El Mahajual, about 15 miles west of the capital of San Salvador, said Salvador Rosales, director of civil protection. Beach huts also were lost along the coast.

Officials said waves in El Salvador had subsided to about 10 feet Tuesday.

In Panama, six ramshackle homes were lost on two beaches in Cocle Province, about 90 miles west of Panama City, said National Civil Protection Agency spokeswoman Larissa Samaniego.

Costa Rican authorities reported minor flooding in several coastal communities. Twenty families were evacuated in Palo Seco de Parrita, 185 miles south of the capital of San Jose, the National Emergency Commission said.


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