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27 Feb, 2010 11:20

Major quake devastates Chile

The death toll from the massive 8.8 earthquake which struck Chile on Saturday now stands at over 700. This number is expected to rise as rescuers continue to search for survivors trapped under the rubble.

Two powerful tremors hit Chile on Saturday, causing the country’s president to declare an emergency in the three states most affected by the disaster. There has been no final report on the scope of damage caused by the quake.

Over one million people have been affected, with buildings collapsing and vital infrastructure ruined.

Chile's president, Michelle Bachelet, ordered the army to help police fight looters. Several people have been arrested.

Fears of a huge tsunami following the quake have abated with an alert across the entire Pacific now cancelled.

The tremor, measuring a magnitude 8.8, is the strongest to hit Chile in nearly 50 years.

A local TV reporter, Juan Bustamante, says whole towns have been evacuated:

“I was in the 5th region, in Santiago at the coast near Vina del Mar. At about 3:34 am we felt the earth shake. It seemed to last forever, but afterwards we were told it lasted for only about two minutes. People said they were unable to walk outside because the shaking was so bad.

I saw injured people in the coastal area near the epicentre of the earthquake. Some hospitals were completely destroyed and most of the casualties were patients in them. At present, the priority is to find accommodations for people. Residents of the coastal area cannot go home because of the risk of a tsunami following the earthquake.

The authorities have done their job in moving people away from the coastal area. Some towns have been completely evacuated to the south of Chile, as its homes had been washed away. Rescuers are surveying the area from helicopters and are working in the rubble. The Chilean president is there also, and says it’s a national catastrophe. A solidarity campaign has been set up to provide support for the country. We haven’t seen such an earthquake since the 1960s.”

Juan Bustamante also told RT that a massive rescue-effort is continuing.

“The search for the missing at the epicenter of the quake – in the Maule and Biobio regions – continues. Rescue teams are still working in one of the buildings in the city of Concepcion to reach dozens of injured people still trapped under the rubble,” he said. “Just yesterday, 30 people were saved. It's not known whether the rest are still alive. In the capital, Santiago, people spent the night in the streets in fear of new tremors. Also, communications remain disrupted and there is no electricity or water supplies in some parts of the capital. Authorities are trying to overcome the consequences of the disaster. This morning, more rescue squads were sent to the area – but some are almost completely flooded with help. Relief works are being co-coordinated by the state emergencies agency.”

The Russian Foreign Ministry announced that Russia is ready to provide assistance and humanitarian aid to Santiago, should it be necessary.

Incidentally, 50 years ago, on May 24, 1960, an earthquake in Chile created a disastrous tsunami up to 20 meters high that pounded about 1,000 kilometers of the Chilean coastline, destroying several populated localities and killing over 2,000 people.

Back then, the wave reached the Far East of the Soviet Union and registered a wave on the Kamchatka peninsula of 7 meters high. No one was hurt.

This time scientists reported only minor-strength waves caused by the tsunami in the Kamchatka Peninsula area. No other disruptions have been registered and no further waves are expected to hit Russia’s Far East region.

Read also: Learning from Haiti