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Widespread devastation in Chile as rescuers struggle to reach earthquake survivors

Sunday, February 28th, 2010 10:19am MDT
A crushed car in a parking garage in Concepcion Chile following the earthquake early Saturday morning Feb. 27, 2010. (TVN)

A crushed car in a parking garage in Concepcion Chile following the earthquake early Saturday morning Feb. 27, 2010. (TVN)

Buildings lie in heaps of rubble, highway overpasses collapsed and large crevices opened in the earth following a massive 8.8 magnitude earthquake off the coast of Chile yesterday. Aftershocks continue to rock the nation while rescuers try to reach an untold number lying buried in the remnants of towns and cities.

Yesterday’s earthquake struck the nation early in the morning hours when most residents were still sleeping. The temblor’s 8.8 magnitude rating demonstrates the power of the quake and put the event in a tie for the fifth most powerful earthquake since 1900.

Tsunami warnings were issued immediately following the quake for thousands of miles of coastline surrounding the Pacific Ocean. From California and Alaska to Hawaii and Japan, officials worried about a devastating wave that could have been generated by the quake.

While the effects of the wave were easily seen and felt in those locations far from the quake’s epicenter, damage was minimal. Thousands of evacuees have been allowed to return and all warnings have been cancelled.

Near the epicenter, Chile is under a ‘state of catastrophe’ and officials work to direct recovery efforts. Outgoing President Michelle Bachelet said, “It was a catastrophe of devastating consequences.”

Officially the death toll from the quake stands at 214 however officials warn that number will almost certainly grow. 500,000 homes were damaged by the quake and 1.5 million residents have been affected.

Concepcion, the largest city closest to the epicenter, saw widespread destruction and the greatest count of fatalities thus far. Buildings across the city were collapsed into ruin and rescuers were working to comb the rubble for survivors.

The nation’s capital, 200 miles from the epicenter, was not spared. Elevated highways collapsed and apartment buildings were reduced to piles of brick and mortar.

Rescuers were struggling to reach possible survivors as they run low on supplies and gasoline. Adding to the difficulty are ongoing aftershocks that threaten to bring down already weakened structures. More than 80 aftershocks of magnitude 5.0 have occurred since the main quake struck at 3:34am Saturday.

Officials with the U.S. Geological Survey said yesterday’s quake was several hundred times more powerful than the magnitude 7.0 quake that devastated Haiti last month. Chile however is in an earthquake-prone region and newer buildings have been built to withstand quakes.

The service also said that the Chile quake was centered 21.7 miles beneath the earth’s surface, considerably deeper than the 8.1 mile depth of the Haiti quake. Its magnitude 8.8 rating puts it in a tie as the fifth largest earthquake to strike the globe since 1900.

The largest earthquake on record occurred on May 22, 1960 in the same area as yesterday’s quake. That event was a magnitude 9.5 temblor that killed 1,655 people, many from a tsunami that claimed lives as far away as Hawaii and Japan.

There's more to this story on Examiner.com!This story was written for the Natural Disasters Examiner on Examiner.com.  For all the latest with the Chile earthquake and other natural disasters, please visit the Natural Disasters Examiner.

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