Saturday, February 27, 2010

Chile News Bulletin: 8.8 Magnitude Earthquake Hits; Many Reported Killed; Tsunami Warnings Throughout Pacific Region,0,2152464.story

8.8 earthquake hits Chile; cities throughout Pacific brace for tsunamis

The quake strikes 60 miles offshore, knocking down highway overpasses and buildings in the capital and the port city of Concepcion. At least 82 are killed, with the toll expected to rise.

By Chris Kraul
7:40 AM PST, February 27, 2010
Reporting from Bogota, Colombia

The death toll is expected to rise from a devastating earthquake that struck Chile after midnight Saturday and President Michelle Bachelet declared parts of her country catastrophe zones.

Interior Minister Edmundo Perez Yoma told reporters at a midday news conference that the magnitude 8.8 quake with an epicenter 60 miles offshore from the port city of Concepcion, had left at least 82 dead.

The first television transmission of the damage showed collapsed highway overpasses and buildings in south Santiago, the capital, and Concepcion. Aftershocks continued to strike the region throughout Saturday morning.

Coastal cities throughout the Pacific region were bracing for possible tsunamis. Hawaii was expected to receive a tsunami of 1 and 2 meters by midday. Waves measuring more than 2 meters had struck the Chilean island of Juan Fernandez.

Fires broke out in Valparaiso and Concepcion, owing apparently to gas leaks.

Telephone and electric power were out and water services were all down from much of Saturday morning and communication was problematic.

Chile was also the scene of one of the world's strongest earthquakes ever recorded in 1960 that left hundreds dead. The quakes are caused by the recurring collision of tectonic plates off the Chilean coastline.

Kraul is a special correspondent. Special correspondent Andres Dalessandro in Buenos Aires contributed to this report.

From The Sunday Times
February 27, 2010

Chile earthquake kills 78 and triggers tsunami

A massive earthquake has hit the coast of Chile, killing dozens of people, flattening buildings and triggering a tsunami.

The 8.8-magnitude quake, the country’s largest in 25 years, shook the capital Santiago for a minute and half at 3:34am (6:34am GMT) today.

A tsunami warning has been extended across 53 countries, including most of Central and South America and as far as Australia, Hawaii and Antarctica.

The wave has already caused serious damage to the sparsely populated Juan Fernandez islands, off the Santiago coast, and is now travelling across the ocean at several hundred km per hour.

The death toll in Chile has reached 78 and is still rising according to President Michelle Bachelet, who has declared a “state of catastrophe” in the country.

Calling for calm from an emergency response centre, the outgoing president said: “We have had a huge earthquake, with some aftershocks.

“Despite this, the system is functioning. People should remain calm. We’re doing everything we can with all the forces we have. Any information we will share immediately.”

The quake hit near the town of Maule, 200 miles southwest of Santiago, at a depth of 22 miles underground.

The epicentre was just 70 miles from Concepcion, Chile’s second-largest city, where more than 200,000 people live along the Bio Bio river.

In Santiago buildings collapsed and phone lines and electricity were brought down, but the full extent of the damage is still being determined.

Santiago airport has been shut down and will remain closed for at least the next 24 hours after the passenger terminal suffered major damage.

Chilean television is showing images of destroyed buildings and damaged cars, with rubble-strewn streets.

Dozens of people were seen roaming through the streets, some wheeling suitcases behind them and others gathering around open fires to keep warm.

Santiago resident Simon Shalders said: "There was a lot of movement. The houses were really shaking, walls were moving backwards and forwards, and doors were swinging open.”

About 65,000 British tourists visit Chile each year, according to the country’s tourist authority.

The Foreign Office has updated its travel information for people planning to go to Chile, saying: “The Foreign and Commonwealth Office is in contact with our embassy in Santiago in order to establish the facts on the ground.

“Communications are sporadic. We will update this advice over the next few hours.”

In the coastal city of Vina del Mar, the earthquake struck just as people were leaving a disco, Julio Alvarez told a local radio station. “It was very bad, people were screaming, some people were running, others appeared paralyzed. I was one of them.”

Several big aftershocks later hit the south-central region, including ones measuring 6.9, 6.2 and 5.6.

The earthquake was caused by the floor of the Pacific being pushed below South American land mass.

This sudden jerking of the sea-floor displaced water and triggered a tsunami, which is now crossing the ocean at a speed of a jet plane.

The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center issued a warning for Chile and Peru, and a less-urgent tsunami watch for Ecuador, Colombia, Panama, Costa Rica and Antarctica.

A spokesman said: "Sea level readings indicate a tsunami was generated.

"It may have been destructive along coasts near the earthquake epicentre and could also be a threat to more distant coasts."

The Joint Australian Tsunami Warning Center also warned of a “potential tsunami threat to New South Wales state, Queensland state, Lord Howe Island and Norfolk Island".

Any potential wave would not hit Australia until Sunday morning local time, it added.

All Pacific islands including Hawaii and the Easter Islands have also received warnings.

On the Easter Islands people are now seeking higher ground before the wave strikes.

Earthquakes are relatively common in Chile, which is part of the pacific “ring-of-fire” tectonic-plate boundary, and many buildings are built to withstand tremors.

However Dr David Rothery, of the department of earth and environmental sciences at the Open University, described a magnitude 8 quake as a “rare event” with only one a year on average.

The largest earthquake ever recorded struck the same region 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 US West Coast.

Chile well prepared for quakes

By Jonathan Amos
Science correspondent, BBC News

It is not possible to predict the time and magnitude of an earthquake, but certain places on the Earth know they are always at risk from big tremors. Chile is one of those places.

It lies on the "Ring of Fire", the line of frequent quakes and volcanic eruptions that circles virtually the entire Pacific rim.

The magnitude 8.8 event that struck the country at 0634GMT on Saturday occurred at the boundary between the Nazca and South American tectonic plates, just off shore and at a depth of about 35km (20 miles).

The biggest city close by is Concepcion, just over 100km to the south.

Collapsed buildings and widespread disruption will have been unavoidable.

Because the quake occurred below the sea floor, tsunamis were also generated, and alerts were issued not just for the Chilean coast but across the Pacific in general.

The Nazca and South American tectonic plates are vast slabs of the Earth's surface and grind past each other at a rate of about 80mm per year.

The Nazca plate, which makes up the Pacific Ocean floor in this region, is being pulled down and under the South American coast.

It makes the region one of the most seismically active on the globe.

Since 1973, there have been 13 events of magnitude 7.0 or greater.


Saturday's shock had its epicentre some 230km north of the source of the magnitude 9.5 tremor of May, 1960 - the biggest instrumentally recorded earthquake in the world. Thousands died in that event.

And it was also about 870km south of the 1922 8.5 event which killed several hundred people in central Chile.

Saturday's tremor is therefore something of a gap-filler between two massive historical events.

French and Chilean seismologists had recently completed a study looking at the way the land was moving in response to the strain building up as a result of the tectonic collision. Their analysis suggested the area was ripe for a big quake.

"This earthquake fills in an identified seismic gap," Dr Roger Musson, who is the British Geological Survey's Head of Seismic Hazard, told BBC News.

"The last major earthquake that occurred in this area was in 1835. This was a famous earthquake observed by Charles Darwin during his voyage on the Beagle. This is a place where the stress has been gathering for 170 years, and finally it's gone in another earthquake that's repeated this famous historical quake."

As is nearly always the case, the region was hit by a series of aftershocks. In the two and a half hours following the 90-second 8.8 event, the US Geological Survey reported 11 aftershocks, of which five measured 6.0 or above.

People will no doubt reflect on the scale of this event and compare it with the recent devastation in Haiti which has claimed an estimated 230,000 lives.

Saturday's quake was almost 1,000 times more powerful than the one to hit Port-au-Prince in Haiti. But size is not in itself an indicator of the likely number of deaths.

One major factor which will limit the number of deaths in Chile will be its greater level of preparedness.

Both the Chilean authorities and the Chilean people are generally well versed in how to cope in such an emergency.

Severe shaking

The Chilean National Emergency Office (Onemi) is responsible for coordinating responses from services such as fire fighters, medical teams and civil defence.

The emergency response system is organised at national, regional and local level.

"Chile is a seismic country. So, we must be prepared!" is the message from Onemi.

The office provides advice on how to prepare for earthquakes and other disasters, and how to behave when one strikes.

Scientists say severe shaking is likely to have been experienced along a 300km stretch of coastline, including in important urban centres such as Concepcion, Arauco, Lota, and Constitucion.

The biggest city close to the epicentre is Concepcion, which forms part of the second largest conurbation in the country with a population of about one million.

It is the capital of Concepcion Province and the Bio Bio region, the name of the river that flows through it.

Concepcion's history has been marked by earthquakes. After a huge tremor in 1751, Concepcion was moved from its original site, currently the town of Penco, to a location further from the sea in the Mocha Valley.
Story from BBC NEWS:
Published: 2010/02/27 12:33:55 GMT

Hawaii prepares evacuations ahead of tsunami

10:04am EST

HONOLULU (Reuters) - Hawaii prepared to start evacuations ahead of a tsunami generated by a massive earthquake in Chile, a civil defense official on the U.S. island said on Saturday.

It planned to sound civil defense sirens across the island state at 6 a.m. local time (11 a.m. EST) after the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center said a tsunami was generated that could cause damage along the coasts of all the Hawaiian islands,

"Get off the shore line. We are closing all the beaches and telling people to drive out of the area," said John Cummings, Oahu Civil Defense spokesman.

Buses will patrol beaches and take people to parks in a voluntary process expected to last five hours.

More than an hour before sirens were due to sound lines of cars snaked for blocks from gas stations in Honolulu.

"Urgent action should be taken to protect lives and property," the Warning Center said in a bulletin. "All shores are at risk no matter which direction they face."

The center has issued a Pacific-wide tsunami warning that included Hawaii and stretched across the ocean from South America to the Pacific Rim.

Geophysicist Victor Sardina said the Hawaii-based center was urging all countries included in the warning to take the threat very seriously.

"Everybody is under a warning because the wave, we know, is on its way. Everybody is at risk now," he said in a telephone interview.

The warning follows a huge earthquake in Chile that killed at least 82 people and triggered tsunamis up and down the coast of the earthquake-prone country.

The center estimates the first tsunami, which is a series of several waves in succession, will hit Hawaii at 11:19 a.m. Hawaii time (4:19 p.m. EST) in the town of Hilo on the Big Island of Hawaii, with waves in Honolulu at 11:52 a.m.

Sardina said the Hawaiian islands could expect waves of six feet (two meters) in some places. Other estimates have been higher but he could not confirm those were likely.

Sardina said the center was looking at Hilo Bay on Hawaii Island as a worst-case scenario right now.

"The shape of the bay favors the waves gaining in height," he said in a telephone interview.

He said California and Alaska could also be affected, but the impact on those coasts should be minimal.

(Reporting by Suzanne Gordon and Ikaika Hussey in Hawaii and Doina Chiacu in Washington; writing by Peter Henderson, editing by Vicki Allen)

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