Massive earthquake hits Chile

SANTIAGO,
Chile
– A massive magnitude-8.8 earthquake struck Chile early on Saturday,
killing 47 people, triggering a tsunami and rattling buildings in the capital
Santiago.

President
Michelle Bachelet confirmed 47 deaths, saying more were possible. Telephone and
power lines were down, making a quick damage assessment difficult in the early
morning darkness. At least 11 aftershocks were reported, including one
registering at 6.9 on the Richter scale.

Bachelet
declared a “state of catastrophe” in central Chile.

The
U.S. Geological Survey said the earthquake struck 56 miles northeast of the
city of Concepcion at a depth of 22 miles at 3:34 a.m. (1:34 a.m. ET).

‘It’s
like the end of the world’


Never in my life
have I experienced a quake like this, it’s like the end of the world,” one
man told local television from the city of Temuco, where the quake damaged
buildings and forced staff to evacuate the regional hospital.

An
Associated Press Television News cameraman said some buildings collapsed in
Santiago,  which lies about 200 miles north of the epicenter.

In
the moments after the quake, people streamed onto the streets of the capital,
hugging each other and crying.

There
were blackouts in parts of Santiago and communications were still down in the
area closest to the epicenter.

Eben
Harrell, a London-based journalist with Time magazine who was visiting
Santiago, described the quake as “very frightening”. He told
msnbc.com that cell phone services were patchy in the city.

Bachelet
urged people to stay calm. “With a quake of this size we undoubtedly can’t
rule out more deaths and probably injuries,” she said.

An
earthquake of magnitude 8 or over can cause “tremendous damage,” the
USGS says. The quake that devastated Haiti’s capital Port-au-Prince on January
12 was rated magnitude 7.0.

‘Threat
to more distant coasts’

The Pacific Tsunami
Warning Center said the Chile quake generated a tsunami that may have been
destructive along the coast near the epicenter “and could also be a threat
to more distant coasts.”

It
issued a tsunami warning for Chile and Peru, and a tsunami watch for Ecuador,
Colombia, Panama, Costa Rica and Antarctica. Chile’s navy said officials had
lifted the tsunami warning in southern Chile, local radio reported.

The
U.S. west coast tsunami 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.

According
to a 2002 census, Concepcion is one of the largest cities in Chile with a
population of around 670,000.

In
1960, Chile was hit by the world’s biggest earthquake since records dating back
to 1900.

The
9.5 magnitude quake devastated the south-central city of Valdivia, killing
1,655 people and sending a tsunami which battered Easter Island 2,300 miles off
Chile’s Pacific seaboard and continued as far as Hawaii, Japan and the
Philippines.

Saturday’s
quake shook buildings as far away as Argentina’s Andean provinces of Mendoza
and San Juan. The tsunami warning center said there was a possibility the U.S.
state of Hawaii could be elevated to watch or warning status.”