Dozens killed in Chile earthquake

Dozens of people were killed in a massive earthquake which hit Chile today.

The quake, measuring 8.8 on the Richter scale, shook the South American country’s capital Santiago for a minute and a half.

Reports suggested at least 64 people had died but the death toll is expected to rise.

Buildings collapsed amid the tremors and phone lines and electricity were down, while a tsunami wave was recorded 124 miles away from the offshore epicentre.

Warnings of further tidal waves were issued in 53 other countries including Australia, although experts said it could take hours for the water displacement to move across the Pacific.

Chile’s president Michelle Bachelet declared a “state of catastrophe” and said: “We have had a huge earthquake, with some aftershocks.

“Despite this, the system is functioning. People should remain calm. We’re doing everything we can with all the forces we have. Any information we will share immediately.”

Chile is at high risk of earthquakes because it lies on the boundary between the Pacific plate and the South American plate.

The latest quake happened after the Pacific plate pushed down on to the South American plate.

According to seismologists, there is usually around one quake of a magnitude of eight a year while one reaching 8.8 would only be expected every few years.

Dr Brian Baptie of the British Geological Survey said: “In global terms this is a very rare quake.

“Chile has experienced some very big quakes in the past.

“It was about 124 miles north east of the largest earthquake ever recorded - 9.5 – in 1960, which resulted in a destructive tsunami that killed many thousands of people around the Pacific.”

He said a 1.3m tsunami wave was observed at Valparaiso, 124 miles north of the epicentre, about 20 minutes after the earthquake.

“Tsunami waves in the deep ocean travel about the same speed as a jet plane and would take about 15 hours to reach Hawaii and about 20 hours to reach the other side of the Pacific,” he added.

Chile faces the prospect of more aftershocks, according to Dr Baptie.

“There have been many aftershocks from this event so far of magnitude 6 and higher,” he said. “The bigger the quake the bigger the aftershocks.

“They will decrease with time after the main shock but they could carry on for some time.”

The devastating tsunami which hit Asia in 2004 measured 9.3 on the Richter scale, making it the second largest ever after the 1960 Chile quake.

About 65,000 British tourists visit Chile each year, according to the country's tourist authority.

Dr David Rothery, department of earth and environmental sciences at the Open University, said: “This morning’s magnitude 8.8 earthquake close to the Chilean coast has caused a tsunami that is now radiating away from the epicentre and travelling at several hundred km per hour across the Pacific ocean.

“A magnitude 8 quake is a rare event.

“On average there is only about one of these per year, globally.

“This one was caused by the floor of the Pacific ocean being pushed below South America.

“Because the epicentre was under the sea, the sudden jerking of the sea-floor displaced water and triggered a tsunami.”

More on this topic

Chile earthquake and tsunami death toll at 700

Foreign hospitals help quake-hit Chile health system

Aftershock hits Chile

Death toll from Chile quake falls by almost 600


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