One million evacuated, at least 10 dead as huge quake strikes off Chile coast

Updated

More than one million people were evacuated from their homes after a massive 8.3-magnitude earthquake struck near the central coast of Chile Wednesday evening.

At least 10 people were killed by the quake that damaged buildings and slammed powerful waves into coastal towns, causing flooding in some.

“It’s been awful,” Maria Angelica Leiva from the coastal town of Navidad told Reuters. “We ran out of the house with our grandchildren.”

She added that it was “all very dark” and she was hoping the sea hadn’t reached their home.

The quake struck at 6:45 p.m. off the coast about 29 miles west of Illapel, a small city to the northwest of the country’s capital Santiago, according to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS). It said the earthquake was the largest to hit near that location in over 100 years.

Illapel Mayor Denis Cortes told TV Chile that the town of around 30,000 was without power.

Residents gather next to a damaged building after an earthquake hit areas of central Chile, in Illapel town, north of Santiago, Chile, Sept. 17, 2015. (Photo by Ivan Alvarado/Reuters)
Residents gather next to a damaged building after an earthquake hit areas of central Chile, in Illapel town, north of Santiago, Chile, Sept. 17, 2015. 
Photo by Ivan Alvarado/Reuters

Chile’s President Michelle Bachelet said Wednesday night that a 35-year-old woman was killed in a roof collapse in Illapel and a 20-year-old woman was killed by falling rock in Monte Patria. An 87-year-old man in Maipu also died of a heart attack, she said. At least two more were dead.

“Once again we’re having to deal with another harsh blow from nature,” she said in a televised statement.

She added that she planned to travel to the areas worst affected by the quake, the biggest to hit the world’s top copper producer since 2010.

Anxious to avoid a repeat of a quake disaster in 2010 when authorities were slow to warn of a tsunami that killed hundreds, the government ordered more than one million people to evacuate their homes.

The port city of Coquimbo was one of the most affected regions, President Bachelet said. The city’s mayor Cristian Galleguillos told Reuters there was infrastructure damage, and communication was poor.

“We’re going through a really grave situation with the tsunami. We have residential neighborhoods that have flooded,” he said. “The ocean has reached the downtown area.”

TV Chile reported that Santiago’s airport was evacuated as a precaution, but it was later reopened. Bottles shook on grocery store shelves in the city. Santiago is about 160 miles to the south of Illapel.

Chile’s state copper miner Codelco also said it was evacuating its workers at its Ventanas division.

Chile has known the largest recorded earthquake in all of human history, a magnitude-9.5 earthquake in southern Chile in 1960, Jana Parsley, a geophysicist with USGS National Earthquake Information Center, said.

“These quakes are not that uncommon in Chile,” Parsley said. “The country lies along a subduction zone in the Pacific Ocean that covers a huge area.”

The other largest earthquakes in Chile were an 8.5 in 1922, an 8.4 in 2001, an 8.0 in 2007, and an 8.8 in 2010.

The USGS first said it was a preliminary 7.9-magnitude earthquake, then quickly upgraded it to an 8.3. It was felt in Central Chile and Western Argentina, the USGS said.

Aftershocks measuring between 6.3-magnitude and 5.7-magnitude were reported after the initial quake, according to the USGS.

Wednesday’s quake was the largest to strike the area within 100 km (about 62 miles) in any direction in more than 100 years, the USGS said. In 1906 an 8.2-magnitude earthquake struck the area and in 2010 a 7-magnitude earthquake hit the region.

Chile has known the largest recorded earthquake in all of human history, a magnitude-9.5 earthquake in southern Chile in 1960, Jana Parsley, a geophysicist with USGS National Earthquake Information Center, said.

“These quakes are not that uncommon in Chile,” Parsley said. “The country lies along a subduction zone in the Pacific Ocean that covers a huge area.”

The other largest earthquakes in Chile were an 8.5 in 1922, an 8.4 in 2001, an 8.0 in 2007, and an 8.8 in 2010.

This story originally appeared on NBCNews.com

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One million evacuated, at least 10 dead as huge quake strikes off Chile coast

Updated