Death toll rises after huge quake, tsunami strike Chile

Magnitude-8.3 earthquake forced a million people to leave their homes, as tsunami waves of 4.6 meters hit Chilean coastline

Death toll rises after huge quake, tsunami strike Chile

By Ben Tavener


Eight people are now confirmed to have died following a huge earthquake that struck central Chile Wednesday evening, according to the Interior Ministry's National Emergency Office, the ONEMI.

The ONEMI said a million people had been evacuated from their homes following the magnitude-8.3 earthquake, which the U.S. Geographic Survey (USGS) said struck 46 kilometers (29 miles) west of the Coquimbo region city of Illapel, and 229 kilometers (142 miles) north-northwest of the capital, Santiago, at 7.54 p.m. local time (22:54 GMT) on Wednesday.

At least two of the fatalities and dozens of injuries were caused by falling rocks and masonry, including collapsed walls. Emergency services also said three people died of heart attacks.

Authorities declared a nationwide red tsunami alert and later said that waves were observed reaching 4.6 meters in locations near the epicenter. The tsunami warning was later lifted, but Pacific island nations, including Hawaii and French Polynesia, remained on alert.

Chilean President Michelle Bachelet, who is set to visit the most affected region later on Thursday, praised emergency services for their swift response: "All of the areas affected are going to be declared disaster zones... It allows us to facilitate getting help to the families affected," the president said.

Some residents in Illapel had been left without drinking water, and hundreds of thousands of people in the Coquimbo region had no power, utility companies reported.

The earthquake caused buildings to sway in Santiago, with videos of shaking offices and homes were quickly uploaded to social media. Witnesses said the earthquake appeared to continue for a number of minutes and that hundreds of people had run onto the streets in fear.

Banker Andres Alvares, 32, was in central Santiago when the quake hit: "The movement was very slow, but intense at the same time. The earthquake stopped and then started again several times," he told Anadolu Agency, later relaying a number of aftershocks.

The earthquake caused buildings to shake in the Argentinian cities of Cordoba and Buenos Aires, and residents in the south and southeast regions of Brazil also reported feeling tremors at around the same time.

The USGS recorded several small subsequent tremors, including a magnitude-7.0 earthquake near Illapel.

Straddling the boundary of the Nazca and the South American plates, Chile is one of the most seismically active regions in the world.

Wednesday's seismic activity was the strongest and deadliest since a magnitude-8.8 earthquake struck southwest of Santiago in 2010, killing at least 525 people.

Commentators saying officials were keen to be seen acting quickly after being heavily criticized for a sluggish response to the 2010 earthquake.

The largest earthquake ever recorded, a massive magnitude-9.5 shock, rocked Chile in 1960. That disaster killed 2,231 victims in the south of the country.

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