More than 9,000 people left homeless by giant Chile quake

A resident sits next to debris at Coquimbo city in the north of Santiago after an earthquake hit areas of central Chile on Sept 18, 2015.
A resident sits next to debris at Coquimbo city in the north of Santiago after an earthquake hit areas of central Chile on Sept 18, 2015.PHOTO: REUTERS

SANTIAGO (AFP) - More than 9,000 people were left homeless after a powerful earthquake hit northern and central Chile last week, officials said on Sunday (Sept 20), dramatically increasing previous estimates.

The death toll from the 8.3-magnitude quake that struck on Sept 16 remained at 13, with four still missing, said Deputy Interior Minister Mahmud Aleuy.

The number of people left homeless jumped drastically from 3,500, as officials scour remote towns in the Coquimbo region, more than 260km north of Santiago, where the quake epicentre was located.

"We hope that by Friday we will have surveyed all of the people who were affected," Mr Aleuy said.

The offshore earthquake was the sixth strongest in the history of geologically volatile Chile and the most powerful anywhere in the world this year, officials say.

Emergency personnel backed by soldiers were still busy cleaning up the coastal city of Coquimbo, which was a jumble of fishing boats, destroyed homes, vendors' stands and vehicles washed up by the tsunami waves that followed the quake.

Public Works Minister Alberto Undurraga toured the city on Sunday and said that only 25 per cent of the area's cleanup work had been completed.

The tsunami crashed ashore just minutes after about one million people were evacuated from the shoreline following the quake.

The human toll was far lower than in February 2010, when an 8.8-magnitude quake and tsunami left 500 people dead.

The Chilean authorities have yet to put a financial figure on the damage, but it is not expected to come anywhere near the US$30 billion (S$42.2 billion) - 18 per cent of Chile's gross domestic product - suffered five years ago.

The national emergency service ONEMI reported on Sunday that 647 homes were destroyed, 1,183 families were without power and 2,400 were without drinking water.