Saturday, February 27, 2010

Deadly quake rocks Chile (8.8 magnitude)

Source: Al Jazeera

A massive magnitude earthquake has struck Chile, producing powerful aftershocks and causing the deaths of at least 52 people.

The 8.8-magnitude earthquake struck early on Saturday near the city of Concepcion in Chile, triggering a tsunami.

The earthquake struck 92km northeast of Concepcion at a depth of 63km at 3:34am local time (06:43 GMT) and 320km southwest of Santiago.

The quake, which lasted for one minute, shook buildings and caused blackouts in as far away as parts of the capital, Santiago.

Its magnitude was reported at 8.3 and 8.5, then fixed by the US Geological Survey (USGS) at 8.8, the country's largest in 25 years. The quake was felt in Argentina as well.

The US centre also recorded eight aftershocks, the largest measuring 6.9 magnitude at 08:01 GMT.

Panic-stricken people swarmed the streets of Santiago, more than 320km north of the epicentre, a Reuters witness reported.

'State of catastrophe'

Michelle Bachelet, the outgoing president, has declared a "state of catastrophe" and warned that more deaths were possible.
"I want to call on all the people of Chile to remain calm ... There have been some aftershocks, but so far our national organisations are still up and running," she said.

A tsunami warning was issued for Chile and Peru by the Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre, and a less-urgent tsunami watch was issued for Ecuador, Colombia, Antarctica, Panama and Costa Rica.

"Sea level readings indicate a tsunami was generated. It may have been destructive along coasts near the earthquake epicentre and could also be a threat to more distant coasts," the centre said.

The US west coast tsunami warning centre said it did not expect a tsunami along the west of the US or Canada but was continuing to monitor the situation.

A national emergency official told local radio the Chilean government was evaluating damage in and around Concepcion.

Phone lines were either down or busy, making confirmation of damage difficult elsewhere, especially further south towards the epicentre.

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

Tsunami threat

Kevin McCue, president of the Australian Earthquake Engineering Society, told Al Jazeera: "An earthquake of this size occurs one every ten years. This quake would have ruptured the earth's surface for about 800km, which is a very long fault line to produce a tsunami.

"I'm surprised it produced such a small tsunami as a result. But everyone is still on alert right across the Pacific."
Randy Baldwin, a geophysicist with the USGS National Earthquake Information Centre, told Al Jazeera an earthquake of this size has the potential to devastate the region.

"This is a significant earthquake with the force to cause significant damage in this region. It is a major seismic event," he said.

In 1960, Chile was hit by the world's biggest earthquake since records dating back to 1900, USGS data shows.

The 9.5 magnitude quake devastated the south-central city of Valdivia, killing 1,655 people and sending a tsunami which battered Easter Island 3,700km off Chile's Pacific seaboard and continued as far as Hawaii, Japan and the Philippines.

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