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At Least 18 Die in Bolivia Quake

May 22, 1998

LA PAZ, Bolivia (AP) _ A series of powerful earthquakes killed at least 18 people and destroyed hundreds of homes today in central Bolivia. Up to 100 people were missing.

A 5.9-magnitude quake struck at 12:36 a.m. near the village of Aiquile, the San Calixto Observatory said. The area is 350 miles east of La Paz.

A second quake hit the same region 13 minutes later with a magnitude of 6.8, which can cause widespread damage in populated areas. The observatory said the quakes’ epicenter was located 55 miles below the surface.

Smaller tremors were felt throughout the morning across central Bolivia, including La Paz. President Hugo Banzer Suarez immediately headed to the stricken area.

At least 18 people were killed, 35 injured and up to 100 were believed missing in Carrasco province, according to civil defense chief Gen. Luis Montero. He said 80 percent of the homes in Aiquile _ a village of 5,000 people _ and neighboring Totora were destroyed.

The quake mainly affected Quechua Indian farming communities that are hours away from any airports.

In Aiquile, Totora and nearby Pocoma, panicked people gathered in the main plazas this morning, fearing the aftershocks would bring down more buildings.

A landslide blocked the road leading to Aiquile, delaying rescue operations, but dozens of parachutists landed nearby to help. Helicopters flew in emergency supplies of food and medicine from the central city of Cochabamba and brought out the injured.

Tractors began clearing the rubble from the streets of Aiquile so rescue workers could reach more of the injured, said Mayor Manfred Reyes Villa.

In La Paz, some frightened residents ran into the streets when the first quake struck, fearing their homes would crumble.

Defense Minister Fernando Kieffer, meanwhile, said Bolivia was not adequately prepared for this type of emergency.

The last powerful earthquake to hit Bolivia came June 9, 1994, with a magnitude of 6.8. It caused no damage, however, since the epicenter was 550 miles below the Earth’s surface.

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