Chile earthquake: Aftershocks and powerful waves hit coast

Strongest quake this year triggered ‘unusually strong currents’ in New Zealand

A magnitude 8.3 earthquake hit off the coast of Chile shaking buildings in the capital city of Santiago and generating a tsunami warning. Video: Reuters

 

Strong aftershocks rippled through Chile on Thursday after a magnitude 8.3 earthquake that killed at least eight 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 authorities were slow to warn of a tsunami that killed hundreds.

As the risk subsided, the government lifted its tsunami warning on Thursday morning.

The quake and heavy waves afterward 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 280 km to the south.

The port of Coquimbo suffered major damage in the quake, which was the strongest in the world this year, 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.

Copper mines

Operations were suspended at two big copper mines, and copper prices on the London Metal Exchange rose to two-month highs in early Asian trading on worries about supply disruptions.

The quake is the latest natural disaster to roil mining in the resource-rich South American country, 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.

State copper miner Codelco said it had suspended mining operations at its Andina mine and had evacuated workers from its Ventanas smelter. Antofagasta said it had halted operations at its Los Pelambres copper mine and would wait until daybreak to assess damage.

New Zealand

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

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

On remote Easter Island in the Pacific Ocean, islanders were evacuated to a church in the only town of Hanga Roa.

By 4am local time (7am GMT), Chile’s emergency office had cancelled the tsunami alert for the island and some parts of the coastal mainland, but kept an alert in place for a stretch of central Chile.

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

The Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre originally issued a tsunami watch for Hawaii, but it was later downgraded to an advisory, saying that data indicated there would be no major tsunami in the state, but sea-level changes and dangerous currents could pose a threat to those in or near the water.

A similar advisory was issued for southern and central California, affecting about 300 miles of coastline from the southern end of Orange County to most of San Luis Obispo County on the central coast.

Aftershocks felt

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

“It’s going to be a long night,” said Ronny Perez in the inland city of Illapel, about 46 km from the epicentre.

A 26-year-old woman was killed by a collapsing wall in Illapel and another person died from 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.

The brunt of the damage was borne by coastal areas where houses and fishing-boats were smashed by waves. The coastal town of Coquimbo was hit by waves of up to 4.5 meters 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 on Friday, but roads were cut off and public transport cancelled between Santiago and the north, local media reported.

Active quake zone

Chile, which runs along a highly seismic and volcanic zone where tectonic plates meet, is no stranger to earthquakes.

In 2014, an 8.2-magnitude quake struck near the northern city of Iquique, and four years earlier an 8.8-magnitude earthquake in central-southern Chile triggered a massive tsunami, and more than 500 people were killed.

In the hours following that quake, President Bachelet and other government officials misjudged the extent of damage and declined offers of international aid.

That delayed the flow of assistance to disaster areas, leaving many survivors feeling they had been abandoned by the government.

Bachelet’s government was also slow to prevent looting following the quake. Its failings hit her high approval ratings at the end of her presidential term, although she remained popular and was elected again in 2013.

Agencies