(CNN) -- A magnitude 7.9 earthquake struck off the coast of central Peru on Wednesday evening, killing 15 people and leaving 70 hurt, President Alan Garcia said on national television.
Pedestrians try to make calls on their cell phones in Lima, Peru, after a strong earthquake Wednesday.
Peru's Panamericana TV put the death toll at 17. It showed footage of traffic lights in the capital, Lima, swaying with the quake.
After everything stopped shaking, medics were seen tending to a woman.
The video also showed chunks of plaster that had fallen from buildings.
Some Lima residents were sobbing after the temblor, while others appeared to be praying.
"This has been the most terrifying experience we've had," Gladys Tarnawiecki told CNN from her home in Lima.
"It was extremely long ... never in my life had I experienced this long an earthquake," she said. See the Lima resident describe how people were 'shouting and praying' »
Many people were outside in the streets, she said, as the radio warned them that aftershocks could follow the quake. Tarnawiecki said she was waiting in her car, afraid to go back inside.
"It was chaos," said Fernando Calderon, an American visiting Peru. "Everybody started crying -- kids, everybody. Everybody started running toward any empty space. Everybody was afraid the buildings were going to collapse."
"It's an awful experience, because there's no warning," he said.
The quake shook inland towns, as well as cities near the coast and the mountains. There were power outages in Lima, Reuters reported, and people ran into the streets in panic as the tremor shook office buildings. Many stayed outside, afraid to go back indoors after the warnings of possible aftershocks.
Meanwhile, tsunami warnings and watches issued after the quake for several Central and South American countries were canceled Wednesday night, as was a tsunami advisory for Hawaii.
Peru, and most of the South American Pacific Coast, are on border of two tectonic plates: The South American plate, which includes most of the continent, and the Nazca plate, which extends across the Pacific along most of the coast. See a map of where the quake struck »
The quake was felt for two minutes, according to Peruvian media. Broken windows were reported in Lima, and mobile phone service was interrupted.
The coastal town of Pisco, about 160 miles (257 kilometers) south of Lima, appears to be the hardest-hit, and electricity was out in the town, Gen. Luis Palomino, head of Peru's national civil defense institute, told CNN International. He said he could not confirm any deaths.
The quake struck at 6:41 p.m. (7:41 p.m. ET) and was centered 25 miles (61 kilometers) west-northwest of Chincha Alta, Peru, and 90 miles (161 kilometers) south-southeast of Lima, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. The epicenter was 25 miles (47 kilometers) below the Earth's surface.
More tremors followed. A magnitude 5.8 quake occurred at 7:02 p.m. (8:02 p.m. ET). It was farther inland, centered 70 miles (113 kilometers) northeast of Chincha Alta and 111 miles (179 kilometers) east-southeast of Lima.
And at 7:19 p.m., another smaller quake of 5.9 magnitude occurred, centered 30 miles (48 kilometers) south-southwest of Ica, Peru, and 180 miles (290 kilometers) south-southeast of Lima. E-mail to a friend
Reuters contributed to this report.
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