One of the largest
earthquakes ever recorded tore apart houses, bridges and highways in
central Chile on Saturday and sent a tsunami racing halfway around the
world. Chileans near the epicenter were tossed about as if shaken by a
giant, and the head of the emergency agency said authorities believed
at least 300 people were dead.
The magnitude-8.8 quake was felt
as far away as Sao Paulo in Brazil — 2,900 kilometers to
the east. The full extent of damage remained unclear as dozens of
aftershocks — one nearly as powerful as Haiti's devastating Jan. 12
earthquake — shuddered across the disaster-prone Andean nation.
Michelle Bachelet declared a "state of catastrophe" in central Chile
but said the government had not asked for assistance from other
countries. If it does, US President Barack Obama said, the United States
"will be there." Around the world, leaders echoed his sentiment.Israeli Foreign
Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor on Sunday morning said that the Israeli
Embassy in Santiago did not find any names of Israelis in the lists of
of casualties and fatalities released by authorities in Chile.
Channel 2 reported that some 20 Israelis currently in Chile had not yet been accounted for after the quake. Chile is a popular travel destination for Israelis traveling after their army service.
Newly built apartment buildings slumped and fell. Flames
devoured a prison. Millions of people fled into streets darkened by the
failure of power lines. The collapse of bridges tossed and crushed cars
and trucks, and complicated efforts to reach quake-damaged areas by
At least 214 people were killed and 15 were missing as of
Saturday evening, Bachelet said in a national address on television.
While that remained the official estimate, Carmen Fernandez, head of
the National Emergency Agency, said later: "We think the real figure
tops 300. And we believe this will continue to grow."
also said 1.5 million people had been affected by the quake, and
officials in her administration said 500,000 homes were severely
In Talca, just 105 kilometers from the
epicenter, people sleeping in bed suddenly felt like they were flying
through major airplane turbulence as their belongings cascaded around
them from the shuddering walls at 3:34 a.m. (1:34 a.m. EST, 0634 GMT).
deafening roar rose from the convulsing earth as buildings groaned and
clattered. The sound of screams was confused with the crash of plates
Then the earth stilled, silence returned and a smell of damp dust rose in the streets, where stunned survivors took refuge.
journalist emerging into the darkened street scattered with downed
power lines saw a man, some of his own bones apparently broken, weeping
and caressing the hand of a woman who had died in the collapse of a
cafe. Two other victims lay dead a few feet (meters) away.
near the epicenter was Concepcion, one of the country's largest cities,
where a 15-story building collapsed, leaving a few floors intact.
was on the 8th floor and all of a sudden I was down here," said
Fernando Abarzua, marveling that he escaped with no major injuries. He
said a relative was still trapped in the rubble six hours after the
quake, "but he keeps shouting, saying he's OK."
television reported that 209 inmates escaped from prison in the city of
Chillan, near the epicenter, after a fire broke out.
capital of Santiago, 325 kilometers to the northeast, the
national Fine Arts Museum was badly damaged and an apartment building's
two-story parking lot pancaked, smashing about 50 cars whose alarms
A car dangled from a collapsed overpass while
overturned vehicles lay scattered below. "I can now say in all surety
that seat belts save lives in automobiles," said Cristian Alcaino, who
survived the fall in his car.
While most modern buildings
survived, a bell tower collapsed on the Nuestra Senora de la
Providencia church and several hospitals were evacuated due to damage.
airport was closed, with smashed windows, partially collapsed ceilings
and destroyed pedestrian walkways in the passenger terminals. The
capital's subway was shut as well, and transportation was further
limited because hundreds of buses were stuck behind a damaged bridge.
main seaport, in Valparaiso about 120 kilometers from
Santiago, was ordered closed while damage was assessed. Two oil
refineries shut down, and lines of cars snaked out of service stations
across the country as nervous drivers rushed to fill up.
state-run Codelco, the world's largest copper producer, halted work at
two of its mines, although it said it expected them to resume
operations quickly, the newspaper La Tercera reported.
Sebastian Pinera angrily reported seeing some looting while flying over
damaged areas. He vowed "to fight with maximum energy looting attempts
that I saw with my own eyes."
The jolt set off a tsunami that
swamped San Juan Bautista village on Robinson Crusoe Island off Chile,
killing at least five people and leaving 11 missing, said Guillermo de
la Masa, head of the government emergency bureau for the Valparaiso
region. He said the huge waves also damaged several government
buildings on the island.
Pedro Forteza, a pilot who frequently
flies to the island, said, "The village was destroyed by the waves,
including the historic cemetery. I would say that 20 or 30 percent has
On the mainland, several huge waves inundated part
of the major port city of Talcahuano, near the hard-hit city of
Concepcion. A large boat was swept more than a block inland. Pinera
flew over the area and said an unspecified number of people had died in
Waves also flooded hundreds of houses in the town of Vichato, in the BioBio region.
surge of water raced across the Pacific, setting off alarm sirens in
Hawaii, Polynesia and Tonga and prompting warnings across all 53
nations ringing the vast ocean.
Tsunami waves washed across
Hawaii, where little damage was reported. The U.S. Navy moved a
half-dozen vessels out of Pearl Harbor as a precaution, Navy spokesman
Lt. Myers Vasquez said. Shore-side Hilo International Airport was
closed. In California, officials said a 1-meter surge in
Ventura Harbor pulled loose several navigational buoys.
tsunami waves hit Japan's outlying islands early Sunday, but while the
initial waves were small and most of the Pacific islands already in its
path had been spared damage, officials warned a bigger surge could
Japan's Meteorological Agency said the first waves were
recorded in the Ogasawara islands. It was just 10
centimeters high. Another, measuring about 30 centimeters,
was observed in Hokkaido, to the north. There were no reports of damage.
13 million people live in the area where shaking from the quake was
strong to severe, according to the US Geological Survey. USGS
geophysicist Robert Williams said the Chilean quake was hundreds of
times more powerful than Haiti's magnitude-7 quake, though it was
deeper and cost far fewer lives.
More than 50 aftershocks topped magnitude 5, including one of magnitude 6.9.
tremor also hit northern Argentina, causing a wall to collapse in
Salta, killing an 8-year-old boy and injuring two of his friends,
police said. The US Geological Survey said the magnitude-6.3 quake
was unrelated to Chile's disaster.
The largest earthquake ever
recorded struck the same area of Chile on May 22, 1960. The
magnitude-9.5 quake killed 1,655 people and left 2 million homeless. It
caused a tsunami that killed people in Hawaii, Japan and the
Philippines and caused damage along the west coast of the United States.
Saturday's quake matched a 1906 temblor off the Ecuadorean coast as the seventh-strongest ever recorded in the world.