Millions displaced after Chile quake

A strong aftershock struck Chile on Sunday, a day after
a destructive 8.8-magnitude earthquake left
hundreds of people dead and a long swath of the country in smoky rubble.

The death toll was expected to
rise, particularly around Concepción, Chile’s second-largest metropolitan area,
which is roughly 70 miles from the quake’s center. The aftershock was reported
around 8:30 local time Sunday morning from the capital of Santiago, where it
shook buildings, according to Reuters.

More than 1.5 million people have
displaced by the quake, according to local news services that quoted the
director of Chile’s emergency management office. In Concepción, which appeared
to be especially hard hit, the mayor said Sunday morning that 100 people were
trapped under the rubble of a building that had collapsed, according to
Reuters.

Elsewhere in Concepción, cars lay
mangled and upended on streets littered with telephone wires and power cables.
A new 14-story apartment building fell, while an older, biochemical lab at the
University of Concepción caught fire.

In the nearby port of Talcahuano, a
giant wave flooded the main square before receding and leaving behind a large
fishing boat on the city streets.

“It was terrible, terrible,” said
Adela Galaz, a 59-year-old cosmetologist who said glasses and paintings fell to
the floor of her 22nd-floor apartment in Santiago, 200 miles from the quake’s
center. “We are grateful to be alive.”

President Michelle Bachelet, speaking
at a news conference on Saturday night, called the quake “one of the worst
tragedies in the last 50 years” and declared a “state of catastrophe.”

While this earthquake was far
stronger than the 7.0-magnitude one that ravaged Haiti six weeks ago, the
damage and death toll in Chile are likely to be far less extensive, in part
because of strict building codes put in place after devastating earthquakes.

The quake Saturday, tied for the
fifth largest in the world since 1900, set off tsunami waves that swamped some
nearby islands before moving across the Pacific. Hawaii began evacuations
before dawn, but by early afternoon there — more than 15 hours after the
earthquake first struck 6,500 miles away — the fears of a destructive wave had
passed. Countries including Japan and the Philippines were on alert and ordered
limited evacuations in anticipation of waves hitting Sunday.

Chileans were only just beginning
to grapple with the devastation before them, even as more than two dozen
significant aftershocks struck the country.

In Santiago, the capital, residents
reported having been terrified as the city shook for about 90 seconds.

Some people ran screaming from
their downtown apartments, while car alarms and sirens wailed during the middle
of the night. At least one apartment building collapsed, according to local
media, and one highway buckled, flipping cars.

“We are in panic because it has
been trembling all day,” said Cecilia Vial, 65, an interior decorator in
Santiago, who dashed out of her apartment only to return at night because she
had nowhere else to go.

“We cannot go against nature,” she
said. “This is something that nature did.”

Paul E. Simons, the United States
ambassador to Chile, said in a telephone interview from Santiago that people he
spoke with at the embassy said those 90 seconds “felt like five minutes.” He
added: “It was definitely an emotional experience.”

Mr. Simons said that although the
United States had offered aid, Chile’s government had not yet requested
assistance. All international relief groups were on standby, and the International
Federation of Red Crosses and Red Crescents said the Chilean Red Cross
indicated that it did not need external assistance at this point.

Although there were long lines at
supermarkets and gas stations, and damaged buildings and roads, the capital
city, according to residents there, was mostly calm by the late afternoon
Saturday. But the scene was grimmer in Concepción and surrounding areas to the
south.

In Talca, 167 miles south of
Santiago, almost every home in the center of the city was severely damaged, and
on Saturday night, people slept on the streets in the balmy night air near
fires built with wood from destroyed homes. All but two of the local hospital’s
13 wings were in ruins, said Claudio Martínez, a doctor at the hospital. “We’re
only keeping the people in danger of dying,” he said.

Dr. Martínez said the hospital
staff had tried to take some people to Santiago for treatment in the morning,
but the roads were blocked at the time.

Eduardo Martínez, 57, a local
resident, said many people on his street had died and that he and his five
brothers all lost their homes.

In Chillán, 69 miles from
Concepción, a crumbling wall allowed 300 prisoners to escape and incite a riot,
according to La Tercera, the nation’s largest newspaper. The police captured 60
inmates, but more than 200 were still at large, the newspaper reported on its
Web site. With major highways and bridges destroyed, and slabs of concrete
jabbing diagonally into the air, transportation slowed or was halted
altogether.

Major seaports and airports,
including the main airport in Santiago, were out of operation across the
central region, Chilean officials said. TV Chile reported that part of the ceiling
at the airport had collapsed, but that runways appeared intact. Cellphone and
Internet service was sporadic throughout the country, considered one of the
most wired in Latin America, complicating rescue efforts.

On Robinson Crusoe, one of the
coastal islands hit by early waves, authorities said at least four people had
been killed.

The earthquake struck at 3:34 a.m.
in central Chile, centered roughly 200 miles southwest of Santiago at a depth
of 22 miles, the United States
Geological Survey
reported.

The Geological Survey said that
another earthquake on Saturday, a 6.3-magnitude quake in northern Argentina,
was unrelated. In Salta, Argentina, an 8-year-old boy was killed and two of his
friends were injured when a wall collapsed, The Associated Press reported.

The most powerful earthquake ever
recorded was also in Chile: a 9.5-magnitude quake struck in the spring of 1960
that struck near Concepción and set off a series of deadly tsunamis that killed
people as far away as Hawaii and Japan.

But that earthquake, which killed
nearly 2,000 people and left more than two million homeless at the time,
prepared officials and residents in the region for future devastating effects.

Shortly after a 7.8-magnitude
earthquake struck in Valparaíso in 1985, the country established strict
building codes, according to Andre Filiatrault, the director of the
Multidisciplinary Center for Earthquake Engineering Research at the University
at Buffalo
.

“There is a lot of reinforced
concrete in Chile, which is normal in Latin America,” Professor Filiatrault
said. “The only issue in this, like any earthquakes, are the older buildings
and residential construction that might not have been designed according to
these codes.”

This was in direct contrast to
Haiti, which was unprepared for the Jan. 12 earthquake, Professor Filiatrault
added.

“If you are
considering this magnitude is 8.8, I would be very surprised if the death tolls
come close,” Professor Filiatrault said.

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