Tsunami warning to every nation around the Pacific after massive 8.8 earthquake strikes ChileBy Wil Longbottom
Last updated at 2:41 PM on 27th February 2010
Vehicles that were driving along a highway that collapsed during the earthquake near Santiago are seen overturned
Chilean TV showed devastating images of the most powerful quake to hit the country in a half-century.
In the second city of Concepcion trucks plunged into the fractured earth, homes fell, bridges collapsed and buildings were engulfed in flames. Injured people lay in the streets or on stretchers.
Many roads were destroyed and electricity and water were cut to many areas.
There was still no word of death or damage from many outlying areas that were cut off by the quake that struck at 3.34am 200 miles southwest of Santiago.
Experts warned that a tsunami could strike anywhere in the Pacific, and Hawaii could face its largest waves since 1964 starting at 11.19am, according to Charles McCreery, director of the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center.
Tsunami waves were likely to hit Asian, Australian and New Zealand shores within 24 hours of the earthquake. The U.S. West Coast and Alaska, too, were threatened.
A huge wave swept into a populated area in the Robinson Crusoe Islands, 410 miles ff the Chilean coast, President Michele Bachelet said, but there were no immediate reports of major damage there.
Bachelet said the death toll was at 78 and rising, but officials had no information on the number of people injured.
She declared a 'state of catastrophe' in central Chile.
'We have had a huge earthquake, with some aftershocks,' Bachelet said from an emergency response centre. She urged Chileans not to panic.
'Despite this, the system is functioning. People should remain calm. We're doing everything we can with all the forces we have. Any information we will share immediately,' she said.
Powerful aftershocks rattled Chile's coast - 21 of them magnitude 5 or greater and one reaching magnitude 6.9 - the U.S. Geological Survey reported.
A woman sits in front a quake-damaged house in Talca, Chile, after the 8.8-magnitude earthquake
A resident takes photos of a building damaged in Talca, ChileBachelet urged people to avoid travelling, since traffic lights are down, to avoid causing more fatalities.
The airport for Chile's capital of Santiago airport was shut down and will remain closed for at least the next 24 hours, airport director Eduardo del Canto said.
The passenger terminal suffered major damage, he told Chilean television in a telephone interview.
TV images show smashed windows, partially collapsed ceilings and pedestrian walkways destroyed.
In Concepcion, nurses and residents pushed some of the injured through the streets on stretchers. Others walked around in a daze wrapped in blankets, some carrying infants in their arms.
The epicenter was just 70 miles from Concepcion, where more than 200,000 people live along the Bio Bio river, and 60 miles from the ski town of Chillan, a gateway to Andean ski resorts that was destroyed in a 1939 earthquake.
The quake also shook buildings in Argentina's capital of Buenos Aires, 900 miles away on the Atlantic side of South America.
A resident sits on the debris of a collapsed house in the city of Talca, some 150 miles south of SantiagoMarco Vidal - a program director for Grand Circle Travel who was traveling with a group of 34 Americans - was on the 19th floor of the Crown Plaza Santiago hotel when the quake struck.
'All the things start to fall. The lamps, everything, was going on the floor. And it was moving like from south to north, oscillated. I felt terrified,' he said.
Cynthia Iocono, from Linwood, Pennsylvania, said she first thought the quake was a train.
'But then I thought, oh, there's no train here. And then the lamps flew off the dresser and my TV flew off onto the floor and crashed.'
'It was scary, but there really wasn't any panic. Everybody kind of stayed orderly and looked after one another,' Iocono said.
In Santiago, modern buildings are built to withstand earthquakes, but many older ones were heavily damaged, including the Nuestra Senora de la Providencia church, whose bell tower collapsed.
An apartment building's two-level parking lot also flattened onto the ground floor, smashing about 50 cars whose alarms and horns rang incessantly. A bridge just outside the capital also collapsed, and at least one car flipped upside down.
The quake struck after concert-goers had left South America's leading music festival in the coastal city of Vina del Mar, but it caught partiers leaving a disco.
'It was very bad, people were screaming, some people were running, others appeared paralysed. I was one of them,' ulio Alvarez told Radio Cooperativa in Santiago.
Bachelet said she was declaring a 'state of catastrophe' in three central regions of the country.
She said Chile has not asked for assistance from other countries.
Several hospitals were evacuated due to earthquake damage, she said.
The Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre called for 'urgent action to protect lives and property' in Hawaii, which is among 53 nations and territories subject to tsunami warnings.
'Sea level readings indicate a tsunami was generated. It may have been destructive along coasts near the earthquake epicenter and could also be a threat to more distant coasts,' the warning center said.
It did not expect a tsunami along the west of the U.S. or Canada but was continuing to monitor the situation.
Debris: A man surveys the damage at the entrace of Santiago de Chile University in the capitalAid organisations in Britain have been quick to respond to today's earthquake in Chile.
Oxfam is sending a team of water engineers and logisticians from Colombia to the stricken country today, along with its lead humanitarian co-ordinator for Latin America.
The charity is also contacting partner organisations in Chile so that the humanitarian response is as fast as possible.
Jeremy Loveless, Oxfam's deputy humanitarian director, said: 'Even though the severity of the situation is unclear, Oxfam is preparing for the worst and will be sending five staff out to Chile today to assess and consider how best to help the thousands of people affected by the disaster.
'The team flying in have years of experience in responding to earthquakes and Oxfam also has partners in the country who can begin to help immediately.
'Chile is a developed country with a very capable government and while it is unlikely that this disaster will be as severe as what we saw last month in Haiti, we want to be in place to help as soon as possible.'
Toppled: A building in Santa Cruz, Chile, lies flattened after the massive 8.8 earthquake this morning
A police officer controls the traffic aside of an elevated highway that collapsed in SantiagoDonations to the Childrens Emergency Fund can be made through the charity's website www.savethechildren.org.uk.
A spokesman said: 'We are assessing the situation and preparing to mobilise teams to support our partners working on the ground.'
ShelterBox is also preparing to send a response team made up of two people from the UK and one from the United States.
ShelterBox general manager Lasse Petersen said: 'ShelterBox will respond quickly where needed, as the unfolding news becomes clearer and the scale of need is confirmed.
'A ShelterBox team is preparing to mobilise at the earliest opportunity.
Our thoughts go out to the people who have been affected by this disaster.'
The British Red Cross released £50,000 from its Disaster Fund to support the response of the Chilean Red Cross.
A pickup truck sits in a hole caused by a major earthquake in Concepcion in this video grab
An old bridge is seen collapsed into the river Biobio after a major earthquake struck in ConcepcionPete Garratt, British Red Cross disaster relief manager, said: 'We are already receiving reports of damage and an increasing death toll from areas 156 miles from the epicentre.
'We anticipate the situation in the worst affected areas closer to the epicentre to be much more serious.
'Our fear is that this quake will have had large scale impact.
'The Chilean Red Cross are experienced in reacting to natural disasters and we are making this immediate release of funds to support their relief efforts.'
Donations to the British Red Cross disaster relief fund can be made at www.redcross.org.uk.
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. The tsunami that it caused killed people in Hawaii, Japan and the Philippines and caused damage to the west coast of the United States.
It was the strongest quake to hit Chile since a magnitude-9.5 temblor rocked southern Chile in 1960. Together with an ensuing tsunami, it killed at least 1,716 people.
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