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Published February 27, 2010, 07:49 PM

UPDATED: 7:45 p.m.: At least 214 dead in Chile earthquake; tsunami causes little damage in Hawaii

TALCA, Chile - One of the largest earthquakes ever recorded tore apart houses, bridges and highways in central Chile today 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.

By: Associated Press, INFORUM

UPDATED: 7:45 p.m.

TALCA, Chile - One of the largest earthquakes ever recorded tore apart houses, bridges and highways in central Chile today 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 to the east. The full extent of damage remained unclear as dozens 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 had 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 sustained at least some damage.

In Talca, just 65 miles 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. (12:34 a.m. CST).

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 damp 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 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.

Tsunami alarms

With a rapt world watching the drama unfold on live television, a tsunami raced across a quarter of the globe on Saturday and set off fears of a repeat of the carnage that caught the world off guard in Asia in 2004.

Japan was still bracing for the prospect of large waves, but the tsunami delivered nothing more than a glancing blow to the U.S. and South Pacific.

The tsunami was spawned by a ferocious magnitude-8.8 earthquake in Chile that sent waves barreling north across the Pacific at the speed of a jetliner. But Pacific islands had ample time to prepare for the tsunami because the quake struck several thousand miles away.

By the time the tsunami hit Hawaii - a full 16 hours after the quake - officials had already spent the morning ringing emergency sirens, blaring warnings from airplanes and ordering residents to higher ground.

The islands were back to paradise by the afternoon, but residents endured a severe disruption and scare earlier in the day: Picturesque beaches were desolate, million-dollar homes were evacuated, shops in Waikiki were shut down, and residents lined up at supermarkets to stock up on food and at gas stations.

Others parked their cars along higher ground to watch the ocean turbulence, and one brave soul stayed behind and surfed before being urged by an emergency helicopter pilot to get out of the water.

There were no immediate reports of widespread damage, injuries or deaths in the U.S. or in the Pacific islands, but a tsunami that swamped a village on an island off Chile killed at least five people and left 11 missing.


Copyright © 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. The information contained in the AP News report may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without the prior written authority of The Associated Press.

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