Sunday, February 28, 2010

Chile Earthquake Update: Millions Affected as Death Toll Rises to 300

From Times Online
February 28, 2010

Chile earthquake: Millions affected as toll rises to 300

Rescue teams have begun to search for survivors after one of the largest earthquakes on record killed at least 300 people in Chile and sent giant waves roaring across the Pacific Ocean.

In an address to the nation, President Michelle Bachelet said two million Chileans had been affected by the 8.8-magnitude earthquake, however after touring the worst-hit areas by plane, she found it hard to spell out the magnitude of the disaster.

"The power of nature has again struck our country," Ms Bachelet said, declaring six of Chile's 15 regions "catastrophe zones" in the aftermath of the quake, which was one of the world's most powerful earthquakes in a century.

An estimated 1.5 million homes were damaged, highways were sliced to pieces, bridges imploded and buildings collapsed as the earthquake struck the South American nation of 16 million people just before dawn on Saturday about 200 miles southwest of the capital Santiago.

"This is a catastrophe of immense proportions, so it will be very difficult to give precise figures," Interior Minister Edmundo Perez Yoma said.

Waves well over seven feet high crashed into the Chilean coast after the quake struck at 3:34 am (0634 GMT) and tore out into the Pacific, killing at least five people in the remote Robinson Crusoe islands.

In the Chilean port of Talcahuano, trawlers were sent shooting inland to the town square where they lay oddly marooned next to abandoned cars.

About 50 countries and territories along an arc stretching from New Zealand to Russia braced for giant waves, five years after the Indian Ocean tsunami disaster that killed more than 220,000 people.

More than 70,000 people fled vulnerable coastal areas of Japan as a tsunami slammed into the country's long Pacific coastline. The first tsunami wave, approximately one foot high, hit Nemuro on the northern island of Hokkaido in the early afternoon. Tsunami alerts in Australia and Russia were later downgraded as the threat passed.

The earthquake has raised a daunting first challenge for billionaire Sebastian Pinera, who was elected Chile's president in January in a shift to the political right and who takes office in two weeks.

"We're preparing ourselves for an additional task, a task that wasn't part of our governing plan: assuming responsibility for rebuilding our country," he said yesterday. "It's going to be a very big task and we're going to need resources."

The US Geological Survey said it had recorded more than 51 aftershocks ranging from 4.9 to 6.9 since the quake.

In Concepcion, a city of 670,000 people 70 miles southwest of the quake's epicentre, hundreds of people spent the night outside in tents and make-shift shelters, fearful of the aftershocks.

The city's old houses made of adobe appeared to have borne the brunt of the damage, but a 15-storey apartment block also collapsed, likely killing or trapping many people inside.

The city was mostly blanketed in darkness, with the only light coming from bonfires and occasional police cars. Crushed cars, downed power lines and shattered glass littered the streets.

The European Union said it would provide three million euros in immediate assistance. Unlike Haiti, struck by a devastating earthquake last month, Chile is one of Latin America's wealthiest countries.

US President Barack Obama said America “will be there” if Chile asks for rescue and recovery help, however Ms Bachelet said her government has not asked for assistance from other countries.

No comments: