The death toll is expected to rise from a devastating earthquake that struck Chile early Saturday morning and President Michelle Bachelet declared parts of her country catastrophe zones.
Interior Minister Edmundo Perez Yoma told reporters at a midday news conference that the magnitude 8.8 quake with an epicenter 60 miles offshore from the port city of Concepcion had left at least 122 dead. The death toll was later estimated at 147.
The first television transmission of the damage showed collapsed highway overpasses and buildings in south Santiago, the capital, and in Concepcion. As many as 40 aftershocks per hour, some of magnitude 6.0 or higher, continued to strike the region throughout the day.
International relief efforts will be stretched thin in Chile, as efforts to deal with the devastation of Haiti’s earthquake in January are still continuing.
The quake in Chile, lasting at least 30 seconds, struck about 3:30 a.m. local time (10:30 p.m. PST). Residents of Santiago, many of them in their pajamas, poured into the streets. The city’s international airport remained closed Saturday afternoon.
The White House pledged support in Chile’s hour of need, and the State Department said all its personnel in the country had been accounted for.
Coastal cities throughout the eastern Pacific region from Acapulco to Hawaii were bracing for possible tsunamis.
In Hawaii, civil defense sirens sounded at 6 a.m. local time alerted residents to the expected arrival of a tsunami of 3 feet to 6 feet by midday.
Chile’s Interior Ministry said ocean surges reaching heights of 10 feet in Juan Fernandez Islands left three dead and 13 missing. The port city of Talcahuano was also struck by surges. The Vina del Mar International Song Festival, taking place near the port city of Valparaiso, was suspended until further notice.
Fires broke out in Valparaiso and Concepcion, owing apparently to gas leaks.
Telephone and electric power were out and water services were all down in many cities for much of Saturday morning, and communication was problematic.
Television reports showed extensive damage in the Maule region 150 miles south of Santiago. One bridge there, over the Claro River, had collapsed, according to local reports. In Talca, an agricultural and wine zone 150 miles south of Santiago, reported 35 deaths. 500,000 homes were destroyed in Santiago.
Santiago residents reported heavy smoke, and a fire at an unidentified chemical plant raged for much of the day.
Chile was also the scene of one of the world’s strongest earthquakes ever recorded in 1960 that left hundreds dead. The quakes are caused by the recurring collision of tectonic plates off the Chilean coastline.
In geologic terms, Chile is on the edge of the so-called circle of fire, a seismically active region bordering the Pacific Ocean .The activity accrues from the ongoing collision of the Nasca tectonic plate with the South American plate that produce frequent quakes, notably the 7.9 magnitude Pisco Peru quake in August 2007 that killed 600. The earthquake was 500 times stronger than the one that hit Haiti a few weeks ago.
The tide has started to move out rapidly… and there are still idiots surfing!!
Can’t wait for California’s ‘Big One’!!!
I’ll post a double Olympic blog later or tomorrow.