Death toll in Chile quake rises to eight; tsunami warning lifted

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The death toll in Chile’s magnitude-8.3 earthquake rose to at least eight with dozens of people injured, local media reported Thursday, citing rescue services.

About 1 million people have been evacuated from their homes, particularly around the country’s coastal areas for fear of a tsunami, the Interior Ministry said.

The warning, issued across the Pacific Ocean to as far as Hawaii and New Zealand, was lifted a few hours after the earthquake late Wednesday, the country’s organization for disaster management said.

The quake disrupted transport and communications and produced waves as high as 5 metres.

About 50 aftershocks – the strongest a magnitude 7.6 – added to the fears among evacuees.

Roads were cut off by mudslides. An estimated 100,000 families were without electricity, according to the government, and many buildings collapsed.

“There are many collapsed walls – many houses, mainly those made of adobe, whose walls were brought to the ground,” Bernardo Leyton, mayor of Canela near the epicentre, told the radio station Bio Bio.

“People are very scared,” Leyton said.

The mayor of Illapel, the town closest to the epicentre, said a woman died there after being hit by a collapsing wall, according to La Tercera newspaper.

Deputy Interior Minister Mahmud Aleuy reported that another woman died in an avalanche while three men died of heart attacks. It was unclear how the other victims died.

One person was still missing, according to media reports quoting the Interior Ministry.

The quake was the sixth largest in the country’s history, Aleuy said.

The US Geological Survey measured the quake’s magnitude at 8.3 while the Chilean National Quake Centre said it was 8.4.

Chilean President Michelle Bachelet said she would travel to the affected areas Thursday.

“Once again, we have to deal with a tough blow from nature,” Bachelet said in a televised address.

“We took very rapid measures, the most important of which was protecting the population,” Bachelet said.

She declared the region most badly affected a disaster area. It included the port city of Coquimbo, which the mayor said is largely underwater. It is one of the places Bachelet plans to visit Thursday.

The quake was felt as far away as Buenos Aires, a distance of more than 1,200 kilometres. Several buildings in the Argentinian capital were preventively evacuated.

US government geologists said the quake’s centre was below the Pacific, 25 kilometres off the central Chilean town of Illapel, in the Coquimbo region, and 228 kilometres north-west of Santiago. The quake was 8 kilometres deep, according to the US Geological Survey

Illapel Mayor Denis Cortes said several people were injured in the town, where a few older buildings collapsed.

Chilean government spokesman Marcelo Diaz called for calm so that necessary measures could be adopted.

“We were in the office, and we felt a very strong, very long quake,” Diaz was quoted as saying on the website of the daily El Mercurio.

Santiago airport was temporarily evacuated although the city’s subway remained operational. Schools were closed Thursday in much of Chile.

Chile is a quake-prone country. On February 27, 2010, a magnitude-8.8 quake and resulting tsunami killed more than 500 people and caused major damage across the country.

A magnitude-7.8 quake claimed the lives of 28,000 people in 1939. The largest earthquake ever measured – 9.5 on the Richter scale – also occurred in Chile, killing 1,655 people in 1960.

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