10 killed as strong quake rocks Chile

One of the homes in Illapel, 200km north of Santiago, destroyed in the earthquake. Most buildings in Illapel had stayed standing. Quake-prone Chile has strict building regulations that limit potential damage. Yesterday, dozens of strong aftershocks c
One of the homes in Illapel, 200km north of Santiago, destroyed in the earthquake. Most buildings in Illapel had stayed standing. Quake-prone Chile has strict building regulations that limit potential damage. Yesterday, dozens of strong aftershocks continued to rattle central Chile.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

8.3-magnitude temblor also triggers evacuation of over a million people amid tsunami alert

SANTIAGO • Strong aftershocks rippled through Chile after an 8.3-magnitude earthquake - the biggest in the world this year - killed at least 10 people and slammed powerful waves into coastal towns, forcing more than a million people from their homes.

After the powerful quake hit on Wednesday evening, the government ordered evacuations from coastal areas to avoid a repeat of a quake disaster in 2010, when the authorities were slow to warn of a tsunami that killed hundreds.

Yesterday, the authorities lifted a tsunami alert and began dispatching emergency crews and assessing damage.

Tsunami advisories were also issued for parts of South America, Hawaii, California and French Polynesia, although waves were generally expected to be small.

As far away as New Zealand, the authorities warned of "unusually strong currents" and urged residents in eastern coastal areas to stay out of the water and off beaches.

The quake and heavy waves afterwards caused flooding in coastal towns, damaged buildings and knocked out power in the worst-hit areas of central Chile and shook buildings in the capital city of Santiago about 280km to the south.

The port city of Coquimbo suffered major damage, Interior Minister Jorge Burgos told a news conference.

President Michelle Bachelet said she planned to travel to the areas worst affected by the quake, the biggest to hit the country since 2010. "Once again we're having to deal with another harsh blow from nature," she said in a televised statement.

The quake was felt as far away as Buenos Aires in Argentina.

"It's been awful. We ran out of the house with our grandchildren and now we are on a hill hoping it will be over soon," said Ms Maria Angelica Leiva from the coastal town of Navidad. "It is all very dark, and we just hope the sea hasn't reached our house."

Yesterday, dozens of strong aftershocks continued to rattle central Chile, a largely agricultural region south of the mining belt.

A 26-year-old woman was killed by a collapsed wall in Illapel, near the quake epicentre. Another person died of a heart attack in Santiago, according to media reports.

Most buildings in Illapel had stayed standing, residents said.

Quake-prone Chile has strict building regulations that limit potential damage, so newer buildings are able to withstand even strong quakes.

The brunt of the damage was borne by coastal areas, where houses and fishing boats were smashed by waves. Coquimbo was hit by waves of up to 4.5m after the earthquake, Chile's navy said. "We're going through a really grave situation with the tsunami. We have residential neighbourhoods that have flooded. The ocean has reached the downtown area," said Coquimbo Mayor Cristian Galleguillos.

Residents reported looting of evacuated houses in Los Vilos, another seaside town, its mayor said.

Chile is due to celebrate its national holiday today, but roads were cut off and public transport cancelled between Santiago and the north, local media reported.

The quake is the latest natural disaster to roil mining in Chile, which accounts for a third of global copper output. Northern Chile was hit by severe floods earlier this year, while a volcanic eruption caused problems for residents in the south.

Chile runs along a highly seismic and volcanic zone where tectonic plates meet, and often experiences earthquakes.

Last year, an 8.2-magnitude quake struck near the northern city of Iquique. In 2010, an 8.8-magnitude earthquake in central-southern Chile triggered a massive tsunami, and more than 500 people were killed.

REUTERS, BLOOMBERG

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 18, 2015, with the headline '10 killed as strong quake rocks Chile'. Print Edition | Subscribe