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Quake, tsunami kill at least 214 people in Chile

Saturday, 27 February 2010, 21:59 Hrs
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Santiago: An 8.8-magnitude quake and a resulting tsunami killed at least 214 people in Chile, Chilean Interior Minister Edmundo Perez Yoma has said.

"This was a cataclysm of immense proportions, and it will be very difficult to have a single figure," he said Saturday.

Perez Yoma asked the community to help, as the government seeks to coordinate aid. People should follow government instructions to remain calm in the face of continuing aftershocks, he said.

Twenty-two people were rescued from a collapsed building in the city of Concepcion, where a team of firefighters had laboured to find and free them.

Hundreds of people were missing and feared trapped under the rubble of buildings which buckled under the force of the quake, the worst to hit the South American nation since 1960.

The earthquake occurred at 3.34 a.m. (0634 GMT), some 90 km northeast of Concepcion, a city of 630,000 in Chile's central coastal region. It also caused damage in the capital Santiago, 320 km north of the epicentre, affecting buildings, roads and closing the international airport.

The Pacific region was bracing for a tidal wave, with Japan, New Zealand and Hawaii going on alert. On Hawaii, sirens wailed and officials began moving people from low-lying areas to higher ground.

The capital's modern international airport was knocked out of operation and will remain closed to incoming and outgoing flights for at least three days. The city's underground rail network was also closed.

Overturned cars littered motorway flyovers, which buckled and crumbled during the quake.

Power lines were down, water supplies were cut and burst gas pipes raised fears of explosions. Internet communications were also cut and the mobile phone network badly disrupted.

In Concepcion, where according to television reports there was hardly a street without damaged buildings, the extent of the devastation remain unclear hours after the quake struck.

The offices of the region government were reported to have been destroyed and the walls of the city's prison collapsed, leading to fears that convicts might have escaped.

The European Union (EU) granted three million euros ($4.1 million) in immediate aid. "We stand ready to do whatever it takes to help the Chilean authorities at this time of need," EU Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon expressed condolences for the victims and the UN "is on standby to offer rapid assistance to the Chilean government and people".

President Barack Obama also expressed his condolences and said the US "have resources to deploy should the Chilean people need our help".

A forward-planning team from Germany's THW civil-defence agency left by air Saturday evening for the quake zone.

The quake was 50 times more powerful than the one which claimed more than 200,000 lives in the Caribbean nation of Haiti Jan 12, said the head of the University of Santiago's Seismological Institute, Sergio Barrientos.

The worst earthquake to hit Chile was in 1960 when a 9.5 magnitude quake claimed 1,600 lives.
Source: IANS
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