Chile quake causes widespread damage

Monday 01 March 2010 16.39
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Chile - Death toll rises
Chile - Death toll rises
Chile - Damage to infrastructure
Chile - Damage to infrastructure
Chile - Tsunami warning
Chile - Tsunami warning
Chile - Thousands affected
Chile - Thousands affected
President Michelle Bachelet - Urged public to stay calm
President Michelle Bachelet - Urged public to stay calm

One of the world's most powerful earthquakes in a century battered Chile, killing at least 214 people, knocking down buildings and triggering a tsunami that threatened Pacific coastlines as far away as Hawaii and Russia.

Buildings caught fire, bridges collapsed and debris blocked streets across swathes of central Chile, but the initial death toll was relatively low from a quake packing many times more power than the one that devastated Haiti last month.

A 15-storey building collapsed in Concepcion, the closest major city to the epicentre, and overturned cars lay scattered below a fallen overpass in the capital Santiago.

Telephone and power lines went down, making it difficult to assess the full extent of the damage and loss of life.

The government said at least 214 people were killed in the 8.8-magnitude quake.

One emergency official said the number of deaths was unlikely to increase dramatically, and a US Geological Survey researcher attributed the low toll to Chile's solid building standards.

But it was the fifth-largest earthquake since 1900 and dealt a blow to the economy and infrastructure of the world's number one copper producer and one of Latin America's most developed and stable countries.

The quake halted operations at two oil refineries and two major copper mines and the government said an estimated half a million homes were severely damaged.

President Michelle Bachelet said a huge wave hit the Juan Fernandez islands, an archipelago where Scottish sailor Alexander Selkirk was marooned in the 18th century, inspiring the novel Robinson Crusoe.

Tsunami warnings were posted around the Pacific, including Hawaii, Japan and Russia.

Unusually big waves battered Ecuador's Galapagos Islands, where residents were moved to higher ground as a precaution.

Ms Bachelet said residents were evacuated from coastal areas of Chile's remote Easter Island, a popular tourist destination in the Pacific famous for its towering Moai stone statues.

The US Geological Survey said the earthquake struck 115km northeast of Concepcion at a depth of 35km.