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Chile shakes - Huge quake hits South American nation

Published:Sunday | February 28, 2010 | 12:00 AM

TALCA, Chile (AP):

One of the strongest earthquakes ever recorded struck Chile yesterday, toppling homes, collapsing bridges and plunging trucks into the fractured earth. A tsunami set off by the magnitude-8.8 quake threatened every nation around the Pacific Ocean - roughly a quarter of the globe.

Chileans near the epicentre were tossed about as if shaken by a giant.

It was the strongest earthquake to hit Chile in 50 years. President-elect Sebastian Pinera said more than 200 people died, a number that was rising quickly.

The quake shook buildings in Argentina's capital of Buenos Aires, and was felt as far away as Sao Paulo in Brazil - 1,800 miles (2,900 kilometres) to the east.

In Talca, just 65 miles (105 kilometres) from the epicentre, furniture toppled as the earth shook for more than a minute in something akin to major airplane turbulence.

Neighbours pulled at least five people from the rubble while emergency workers, themselves disoriented, asked for information from reporters.

In the Chilean capital of Santiago, 200 miles (325 kilometres) northeast of the epicentre, a car dangled from a collapsed overpass, the national Fine Arts Museum was badly damaged and an apartment building's two-storey parking lot pancaked, smashing about 50 cars whose alarms rang incessantly.

The jolt set off a tsunami that raced across the Pacific, setting off alarm sirens in Hawaii, Polynesia and Tonga. Tahitian officials banned all traffic on roads less than 1,600 feet (500 metres) from the sea and people in several low-lying island nations were urged to find higher ground.

The White House is keeping close watch on the Chilean quake, after a tsunami struck Hawaii. Presidential press secretary Robert Gibbs said the United States stands ready to help the Chilean people "in this hour of need".

Tsunami warnings

Experts said tsunami waves were likely to hit Asian, Australian and New Zealand shores within 24 hours of the earthquake. The US West Coast and Alaska, too, were threatened. In all, 53 nations and territories were subject to tsunami warnings.

The quake struck after concert-goers had left South America's leading music festival in the coastal city of Vina del Mar, where organisers cancelled performances on Saturday, the final night of the festival. But it caught partiers leaving a disco.

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 two million homeless. The tsunami that it caused killed people in Hawaii, Japan and the Philippines and caused damage to the west coast of the United States.


Residents look at a collapsed building in Concepcion, Chile.

Ap photos

A woman sits in front of a quake-damaged house in Talca, Chile, after an 8.8-magnitude earthquake struck the country early yesterday.

Deadly quakes

  • January 23, 1556: 8-magnitude quake in Shaanxi, China, 830,000 deaths.
  • July 27, 1976: 7.5-magnitude quake in Tangshan, China, 255,000-655,000 deaths
  • August 8, 1138: Quake near Syria, Aleppo, killed 230,000.
  • December 26, 2004: Magnitude 9.1 quake off Sumatra killed 227,898 people.
  • January 12, 2010: Magnitude 7.0 quake near Haiti killed 222,521 people