EARTHQUAKE RUMBLES CHILE
Country reports at least 214 dead. Tsunami extends across Pacific but causes little damage in Hawaii.
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.
At least 214 people were killed, according to Chilean officials, and more than 1.5 million people were displaced. The death toll was expected to rise, particularly around Concepcion, Chile’s secondlargest metropolitan area, which is roughly 70 miles from the quake’s center.
The magnitude-8.8 quake was felt as far away as Sao Paulo in Brazil — 1,800 miles 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.
President 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, President Barack Obama said, the United States “will be there.” Around the world, leaders echoed his sentiment.
In Chile, 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 road.
Concepcion resident Alberto Rozas said his building began to shake and he grabbed his daughter in terror amid shattering glass and an ungodly roar.
“It was awful,” said Rozas, who lives next to a 13-story apartment building that was reduced to a pile of rubble. “The only thing I did right was throw clothes on the floor so my daughter and I could escape without ruining our feet. But we’re still covered with cuts.”
The quake, the fifth-largest quake in the world recorded since 1900, set off tsunami waves that swamped nearby islands. The threat raced across the Pacific, triggering the first hemisphere-wide tsunami warning since 1964.
There were no immediate reports of widespread damage, injuries or deaths in the U.S. or in the Pacific islands, but a wave swamped a village on an island off Chile and killed at least five.
Meanwhile, Latin America’s wealthiest nation bore the brunt of the quake’s force.
In Talca, just 65 miles 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.
A deafening roar rose from the convulsing earth as buildings groaned and clattered. The sound of screams was confused with the crash of plates and windows.
Then the earth stilled, silence returned and a smell of damp dust rose in the streets, where stunned survivors took refuge.
A 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 away.
Also near the epicenter was
@Go to KansasCity.com for a photo gallery of the Chilean quake’s aftermath. Concepcion, one of the country’s largest cities, where a 15story building collapsed, leaving a few floors intact.
“I was on the eighth 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 trapped in the rubble six hours after the quake, “but he keeps shouting, saying he’s OK.”
Chilean state television reported that 209 inmates escaped from prison in the city of Chillan, near the epicenter, after a fire broke out.
In the capital of Santiago, 200 miles to the northeast, a car dangled from a collapsed overpass, the national Fine Arts Museum was badly damaged and an apartment building’s two-story parking lot pancaked, smashing about 50 cars whose alarms rang incessantly.
Although most modern buildings survived, a bell tower collapsed on the Nuestra Senora de la Providencia church and several hospitals were evacuated due to damage.
Santiago’s 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.
Chile’s main seaport, in Valparaiso, about 75 miles from Santiago, was ordered closed while damage was assessed. The state-run Codelco, the world’s largest copper producer, shut two of its mines, the newspaper La Tercera reported.
About 13 million people live in the area where shaking was strong to severe, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. 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.
Saturday’s quake occurred along the same fault responsible for the biggest quake ever measured, a 9.5 tremor in 1960 that killed nearly 2,000 people in Chile and hundreds more across the Pacific.
More than 50 aftershocks topped magnitude 5, including one of magnitude 6.9.
“This was a powerful and sustained eruption,” Paul Simons, the U.S. ambassador to Chile, said in a telephone interview from Santiago. “Most of the embassy folks I talked to said that it felt like five minutes. It was definitely an emotional experience.”
The quake was vastly more powerful than last month’s 7.0magnitude earthquake that caused widespread damage in Haiti and, according to the government, killed an estimated 230,000 people.
But experts said the damage in Chile was likely to be much more limited, and the rescue efforts easier, because it is a far more prosperous country and was better prepared because of the 1960 quake.
Said Andre Filiatrault, the director of the Multidisciplinary Center for Earthquake Engineering Research at the University at Buffalo: “Chile is not a stranger to earthquakes.” The New York Times and the Los Angeles Times contributed to this report.
This building collapsed in Concepcion, Chile, which is about 70 miles from the epicenter of Saturday’s earthquake.
About 13 million people live in central Chile, where the earthquake was strong to severe. This damaged road is in the nation’s second-largest city, Concepcion.