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Massive Earthquake in Chile Triggers Tsunami

By Sue Richards last modified Feb 28, 2010 08:15 AM

Published: 2010-02-28 08:15:56
Topics: Weather
Countries: Chile

It struck in Chile, wrecking hospitals, roads and homes, but it was so massive that the tidal wave it unleashed prompted evacuations thousands of miles away in Hawaii.

Taken from a report by David Randall, The Independent
Sunday, 28 February 2010

A massive 8.8 magnitude earthquake struck Chile early yesterday (Saturday 27 February), killing at least 210 people, bringing down homes and hospitals, and setting off a tsunami that triggered warnings and evacuations across the entire Pacific.

At the time of writing, a tidal wave of as yet undetermined height is heading, at a speed of hundreds of miles an hour, towards places as far away as Australia, the Philippines and even Russia. In the early hours of today it reached New Zealand, having arrived in Hawaii to no great effect a few hours before. The island, in the words of the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center, "dodged the bullet".

Yesterday's quake was far stronger than the 7.0 magnitude tremor that killed more than 200,000 in Haiti in January, but it happened in a country that is better prepared than most. Yet the impact was immediate and, for those feeling it, severe. Chilean TV showed images from the city of Concepcion of collapsed homes, broken roads, large buildings engulfed in flames, the injured lying in the streets or on stretchers, and residents huddled in streets strewn with glass and masonry.

Many were terrified by the powerful and repeated aftershocks. In the hours after the quake, there were no fewer than 50 that registered a magnitude greater than 5.0, and one at 6.9 – within a whisker of the main Haiti tremor. The country's President, Michelle Bachelet, wasted little time in declaring a "state of catastrophe" in central Chile.

What was described as a "huge wave", perhaps as much as 8ft high, reportedly caused extensive damage to the populated part of the Juan Fernandez islands, 410 miles off the Chilean coast, where the Scottish sailor Alexander Selkirk was marooned in the 18th century, inspiring the novel Robinson Crusoe.

Residents were also evacuated from coastal areas of Easter Island, famous for its towering Moai statues.

In Hawaii, preparations for evacuations ahead of a tsunami were under way by early morning. At 6am local time, civil defence sirens wailed across the island state. The message from John Cummings, an Oahu Civil Defense spokesman, was unequivocal: "Get off the shoreline. We are closing all the beaches and telling people to drive out of the area."

Even before the sirens sounded, lines of cars snaked for blocks from petrol stations throughout Honolulu, the state's capital. Victor Sardina, a geophysicist, said the Hawaii-based Pacific Tsunami Warning 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. The first waves duly arrived mid-evening London time, but were well short of the feared height of eight feet. Other countries under threat – Japan, Australia, New Zealand, the US west coast and Alaska, and others across southern Asia – are still, to varying extents, braced for a possible surge.

Earthquakes across the Pacific have had deadly effects on Asia in the past. A tsunami after a 9.5 magnitude quake that struck Chile in 1960, the largest earthquake ever recorded, killed about 140 people in Japan, 61 in Hawaii and 32 in the Philippines. That tsunami was about 3.3 to 13ft in height, Japan's Meteorological Agency said.

There were fears late last night that the tsunami from Saturday's quake could be as high as three metres when it reaches the Japanese coast.

Australia, meanwhile, was put on tsunami watch. The Joint Australian Tsunami Warning Center issued an alert for a "potential tsunami threat" to the states of New South Wales and Queensland, Lord Howe Island and Norfolk Island.

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