Ten dead and a million flee as massive quake hits Chile
Published 18/09/2015 | 02:30
At least 10 people were killed and more than a million forced to evacuate their homes following a major earthquake in Chile.
The massive magnitude-8.3 quake struck at 7.54pm local time on Wednesday evening and lasted for three minutes.
It triggered tsunami warnings from California to New Zealand.
The earthquake's epicentre was 50km west of Illapel, a town of 30,000 people.
The tremors were felt as far away as Rio de Janeiro and at least one school in New Zealand had to be evacuated.
Several coastal towns were flooded from small tsunami waves set off by the quake, which shook the earth so strongly that rumbles were felt across South America.
Chilean president Michelle Bachelet urged people who had been evacuated to stay on high ground until authorities could fully evaluate the situation.
Officials said schools were closed in most of the country yesterday.
In the past year, Chile has endured devastating floods in the north, wildfires in the south and two volcanic eruptions.
"Once again we must confront a powerful blow from nature," said Ms Bachelet.
Authorities said at least 10 people had been killed, and one of the dead was a 26-year-old woman.
Mahmud Aleuy, the Interior Ministry's deputy secretary, said one million people were forced out of their homes and electrical power was cut off to 240,000 households.
Numerous aftershocks, including one at magnitude 7 and four above 6, shook the region after the initial earthquake - the strongest tremor since a powerful quake and tsunami killed hundreds in 2010.
"Everything is a mess. It was a disaster, a total loss. Bottles and glasses shattered and the pipes in the bathroom and kitchen burst," said restaurant owner Melisa Pinones in the city of Illapel, near the epicentre of the quake.
In the coastal town of Los Vilos, residents tried to salvage belongings from dozens of beachfront homes that were destroyed or severely damaged when the strong waves swept in.
The tremor was so strong that people in Buenos Aires, Argentina, on the other side of the continent, felt it. People in Peru and Brazil also reported feeling the shakes. No injuries were reported outside of Chile, and tsunami warnings in Chile were lifted early yesterday.
A magnitude-8.8 quake and ensuing tsunami in south- central Chile in 2010 killed more than 500 people, destroyed 220,000 homes, and washed away docks, river fronts and seaside resorts. That quake released so much energy it shortened the Earth's day by a fraction of a second by changing the planet's rotation.
Chile is one of the world's most earthquake-prone countries because just off the coast the Nazca tectonic plate plunges beneath the South American plate, pushing the towering Andes cordillera to ever-higher altitudes. The strongest earthquake ever recorded on Earth happened in Chile - a magnitude-9.5 tremor in 1960 that killed more than 5,000 people.
In the aftermath of Wednesday's earthquake, some people drove to higher ground to seek safety, while others just took to the streets.
It struck as thousands of Chileans were travelling to coastal areas to celebrate a week of national holidays.
Waves up to 15 feet high pounded the Chile coast.
This is the latest earthquake to hit Chile, a country of 17 million people. In April last year, eight people were killed in another powerful quake and there have been at least 30 in just over a century.
Coquimbo, 460km north of Santiago, was particularly badly hit, with roads flooded by a tsunami wave.
"We're going through a really grave situation with the tsunami," said Cristian Galleguillos, the town's mayor. "We have residential neighbourhoods that have flooded. The ocean has reached the downtown area."
Chile is the world's top copper producer and operations were suspended at two big copper mines as a precaution, sending prices on the London Metal Exchange to two-month highs in early Asian trading on concern over disruptions to supplies.
Prices later dipped as concerns about long-term disruption subsided.
Meanwhile, tsunami warnings were in effect for Hawaii and parts of California. The Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre originally issued a tsunami watch for Hawaii but downgraded the alert to an advisory. A tsunami warning was last issued for Hawaii in 2012, after a powerful earthquake off the coast of Canada.
The Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre lifted its tsunami advisory three hours after downgrading from a warning and less than six hours after the waves first hit the islands.
The US state was spared from severe surges.