SANTIAGO, CHILE (TIP): A strong 8.3-magnitude earthquake struck off Chile’s coast on Wednesday, shaking buildings in cities around the country and forcing the authorities to evacuate residents along the 2,690-mile coast after tsunami warnings were issued. At least eight deaths were reported.
The quake hit at 7.54pm west of Illapel, about 177 miles north of the capital, Santiago, and was felt in Sao Paulo, Brazil, more than 2,100 miles away.
Chile’s national emergency service ordered the immediate evacuation of the coast, as well as Easter Island and the archipelago Juan Fernandez. President Michelle Bachelet appeared on national television, telling citizens that her government was closely examining the damage.
“Once again we have to confront a tough blow from nature,” Bachelet said in a reference to her nation’s long history of quakes.
The under secretary of the interior, Mahmud Aleuy, said one million people had been evacuated and 243,000 homes had lost power.
People moved to higher ground in vehicles and on foot in relative calm as waves began flooding parts of some cities with differing intensity. Waves reached as high as 15 feet in Coquimbo, a port city 285 miles north of Santiago. The flooding spread to many parts of the city, causing extensive damage to the port, the fishing wharf and much of downtown.
Among those who died, a 35-year-old woman died in Illapel when a wall fell on her, and in Monte Patria in northern Chile, a 20-year-old woman was reported killed after being crushed by rocks. Three men died of heart attacks: a 67-year-old and an 81-year-old in Valparaiso and a 96-year-old in Santiago. One person was reported missing near Tongoy, a town 225 miles north of Santiago.
Flooding in Tongoy was extensive and destroyed a preschool, a police station and part of a health clinic, the authorities said.
Tsunami warnings were issued as far away as California and New Zealand, although the warning for Chile was lifted.
Adobe homes and infrastructure in towns and rural areas, especially in northern Chile, were seriously damaged, evoking the havoc caused by an 8.2-magnitude earthquake last year.
Chile ranks among the countries that are most vulnerable to earthquakes, and Chileans have painful memories of an 8.8-magnitude quake in 2010 in southern Chile that killed 525 people, many of them in a tsunami in the south-central part of the country.
Officials failed to issue a tsunami alert for that earthquake, resulting in 81 of those deaths. As a result, new protocols were put in place. Four government officials were later charged with involuntary manslaughter after they were accused of improperly evaluating the risks from the tsunami.