February 28, 2010

Massive Earthquake Hits Chile, Aftershocks Continue

A magnitude 8.8 earthquake struck Chile early Saturday morning; damaging buildings, destroying bridges and tossing cars and trucks around like they were toys.

The earthquake set off a tsunami that battered the Chilean coast minutes after the devastating tremor. The waves quickly pushed out westward into the Pacific Ocean, where more than 50 nations waited to feel some kind of effect from the early morning tragedy.

The quake, which is the strongest to hit Chile in 50 years, struck at 3:34 a.m. Saturday morning, waking people from their sleep, struggling to make sense of what was going on.
So far, over 300 deaths have been reported, a number that could quickly rise. As of Sunday morning, at least 150 people were still unaccounted for. Government officials are expected to update the death toll around 10a.m. EST Sunday.

Buildings shook in the capital of Argentina, Buenos Aires, and the earthquake was felt as far away as Sao Paulo, Brazil -- 1,800 miles to the east. Just 65 miles from the epicenter, in Talca, the town's historic center collapsed, and many businesses were damaged or destroyed.

Many areas became inaccessible as bridges collapsed and roads were torn to shreds. Travel is next to impossible in many areas. Electricity, water and phone lines are cut to many areas, making it difficult for emergency workers to access and report how much damage was done and how many deaths there may be.

In Santiago, the Chilean capital, 200 miles northeast of the epicenter, an overpass collapsed, the Fine Arts Museum was damaged heavily, and an apartment building's two-story parking lot caved in, sounding off many car alarms that rang out continually.

The earthquake has set off a tsunami that sped out across the Pacific. Officials in many countries were immediately alerted of the impending dangerous waves and they acted accordingly. 

Mexico, and French Polynesia were impacted by the force of the tsunami, but at press time, there was no word on the extent of any damages or loss of life. 

Waves hit Talcahuano near Concepcion 23 minutes after the quake, and President Michelle Bachelet said a huge wave swept through areas of the Robinson Crusoe Islands, 410 miles off the Chilean coast. Bachelet said she had no information on death toll or injuries, but she did declare a "state of catastrophe" in central Chile. She added that the government was not asking for assistance from other countries at that time.

She urged people to stay calm, and assured the public that the system is still functioning and everything is being done with the resources that are available.

Since the early morning tremor, the country has felt more than 75 aftershocks -- 41 of them were greater than magnitude 5. Six of the aftershocks measured magnitude 6 or greater.

Modern buildings have been constructed to withstand powerful quakes in Santiago, but many of the older ones were heavily damaged, including the Nuestra Senora de la Providencia church, whose bell tower collapsed. Several hospitals in the area were evacuated due to earthquake damage, Bachelet said.

Transportation and Telecommunications are heavily affected. The airport is scheduled to be closed for at least 24 hours, and the subway system has been shut down as well. Hundreds of buses were trapped at a terminal by a damaged bridge. People are urged to only travel if absolutely necessary and only make phone calls if they are important.

In Concepcion, Chile's second largest city, nurses and residents pushed and carried injured people through the streets on stretchers. Many walked around dazed and disoriented, some carrying infants.

Also, a 15-story building collapsed, leaving only a few floors intact.

Fernando Abarzua, amazed that he escaped without major injuries, told the Associated Press. "I was on the 8th floor (of the apartment building) and all of a sudden I was down here." Six hours after the quake, he said a relative was still trapped inside, "but he keeps shouting, saying he's ok."

The earthquake struck just after a music festival had closed for the night in the coastal city of Vina del Mar. Organizers of the event canceled performances on Saturday, the final night of the festival. But partiers leaving a disco were caught in the tremor.

"It was very bad. People were screaming. Some people were running, others appeared paralyzed. I was one of them," Julio Alvarez told Radio Cooperativa.

Chile's largest ever recorded earthquake struck on May 22, 1960. It was a magnitude 9.5 quake that killed 1,655 people and left 2 million homeless. The tsunami that it caused killed people as far away as Hawaii, Japan and the Philippines. The west coast of the United States also felt the impact, where much damage was caused.

Saturday's quake matched a 1906 temblor off the Ecuadorean coast as the seventh-strongest ever recorded in the world.


Image Caption: Structural damage caused by the earthquake. Courtesy Wikipedia


On the Net: