Chile struck by one of strongest earthquakes ever

TALCA, Chile (AP) - One of the largest earthquakes ever recorded
tore apart houses, bridges and highways in central Chile on
Saturday and sent a tsunami racing halfway around the world.
Chileans near the epicenter were tossed about as if shaken by a
giant, and authorities said at least 214 people were dead.
The magnitude-8.8 quake was felt as far away as Sao Paulo in
Brazil - 1,800 miles (2,900 kilometers) to the east. The full
extent of damage remained unclear as scores of aftershocks - one
nearly as powerful as Haiti's devastating Jan. 12 earthquake -
shuddered across the disaster-prone Andean nation.
President Michelle Bachelet declared a "state of catastrophe"
in central Chile but said the government has not asked for
assistance from other countries. If it does, President Barack Obama
said, the United States "will be there." Around the world,
leaders echoed his sentiment.
In Chile, newly built apartment buildings slumped and fell.
Flames devoured a prison. Millions of people fled into streets
darkened by the failure of power lines. The collapse of bridges
tossed and crushed cars and trucks, and complicated efforts to
reach quake-damaged areas by road.
At least 214 people were killed, according to Interior Minister
Edmundo Perez Yoma, and officials said about 1.5 million homes
suffered at least some damage.
In Talca, just 65 miles (105 kilometers) from the epicenter,
people sleeping in bed suddenly felt like they were flying through
major airplane turbulence as their belongings cascaded around them
from the shuddering walls at 3:34 a.m. (1:34 a.m. EST, 0634 GMT).
A deafening roar rose from the convulsing earth as buildings
groaned and clattered. The sound of screams was confused with the
crash of plates and windows.
Then the earth stilled, silence returned and a smell of moist
dust rose in the streets, where stunned survivors took refuge.
A journalist emerging into the darkened street scattered with
downed power lines saw a man, some of his own bones apparently
broken, weeping and caressing the hand of a woman who had died in
the collapse of a cafe. Two other victims lay dead a few feet
(meters) away.
Also near the epicenter was Concepcion, one of the country's
largest cities, where a 15-story building collapsed, leaving a few
floors intact.
"I was on the 8th floor and all of a sudden I was down here,"
said Fernando Abarzua, marveling that he escaped with no major
injuries. He said a relative was still trapped in the rubble six
hours after the quake, "but he keeps shouting, saying he's OK."
Chilean state television reported that 209 inmates escaped from
prison in the city of Chillan, near the epicenter, after a fire
broke out.
In the capital of Santiago, 200 miles (325 kilometers) to the
northeast, a car dangled from a collapsed overpass, the national
Fine Arts Museum was badly damaged and an apartment building's
two-story parking lot pancaked, smashing about 50 cars whose alarms
rang incessantly.
While most modern buildings survived, a bell tower collapsed on
the Nuestra Senora de la Providencia church and several hospitals
were evacuated due to damage.
Santiago's airport was closed, with smashed windows, partially
collapsed ceilings and destroyed pedestrian walkways in the
passenger terminals. The capital's subway was shut as well, and
transportation was further limited because hundreds of buses were
stuck behind a damaged bridge.
Chile's main seaport, in Valparaiso about 75 miles (120
kilometers) from Santiago, was ordered closed while damage was
assessed. The state-run Codelco, the world's largest copper
producer, shut two of its mines, the newspaper La Tercera reported.
The jolt set off a tsunami that swamped San Juan Bautista
village on Robinson Crusoe Island off Chile, killing at least five
people and leaving 11 missing, said Guillermo de la Masa, head of
the government emergency bureau for the Valparaiso region. He said
the huge waves also damaged several government buildings on the
It then raced across the Pacific, setting off alarm sirens in
Hawaii, Polynesia and Tonga and prompting warnings across all 53
nations ringing the vast ocean.
Tsunami waves washed across Hawaii, where little damage was
reported. The U.S. Navy moved a half-dozen vessels out of Pearl
Harbor as a precaution, Navy spokesman Lt. Myers Vasquez said.
Shore-side Hilo International Airport was closed. In California,
officials said a 3-foot (1-meter) surge in Ventura Harbor pulled
loose several navigational buoys.
About 13 million people live in the area where shaking was
strong to severe, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. USGS
geophysicist Robert Williams said the Chilean quake was hundreds of
times more powerful than Haiti's magnitude-7 quake, though it was
deeper and cost far fewer lives.
More than 50 aftershocks topped magnitude 5, including one of
magnitude 6.9.
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. It caused a tsunami that killed people
in Hawaii, Japan and the Philippines and caused damage along the
west coast of the United States.
Saturday's quake matched a 1906 temblor off the Ecuadorean coast
as the seventh-strongest ever recorded in the world.
Associated Press writer Roberto Candia reported this story from
Talca and Eva Vergara from Santiago. AP writers Eduardo Gallardo in
Santiago and Sandy Kozel in Washington contributed to this report.

(Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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