The death toll is expected to rise from a devastating earthquake that struck Chile early Saturday morning and President Michelle Bachelet declared parts of her country catastrophe zones.
Interior Minister Edmundo Perez Yoma told reporters at a midday news conference that the magnitude 8.8 quake with an epicenter 60 miles offshore from the port city of Concepcion had left at least 122 dead.
The first television transmission of the damage showed collapsed highway overpasses and buildings in south Santiago, the capital, and in Concepcion. As many as 30 aftershocks, some of magnitude 6.0 or higher, continued to strike the region throughout the day.
Coastal cities throughout the eastern Pacific region from Acapulco to Hawaii were bracing for possible tsunamis.
In Hawaii, civil defense sirens sounded at 6 a.m. local time alerted residents to the expected arrival of a tsunami of 3 feet to 6 feet by midday.
Waves measuring more than 6 feet had struck the Chilean island of Juan Fernandez, Yoma said. the port city of Talcahuano was also struck by ocean surges. The Vina del Mar International Song Festival, taking place near the port city of Valparaiso, was suspended until further notice.
President-elect Sebastian Pinera, who takes office in two weeks, told reporters that in addition to scores of deaths the country had suffered serious damage to its infrastructure, including highways airports and housing.
This earthquake has delivered a tremendous blow to Chilean society, Pinera said. “Our government will do everything for the recovery and to accelerate reconstruction.”
International relief efforts will be stretched thin in Chile, as efforts to deal with the devastation of Haiti’s earthquake in January are still continuing.
The quake in Chile, lasting at least 30 seconds, struck about 3:30 a.m. local time (10:30 p.m. PST). Residents of Santiago, many of them in their pajamas, poured into the streets. The city’s international airport remained closed Saturday afternoon.
The White House pledged support in Chile’s hour of need, and the State Department said all its personnel in the country had been accounted for.
Yoma said emergency rescue teams were in operation in various cities
Fires broke out in Valparaiso and Concepcion, owing apparently to gas leaks.
Telephone and electric power were out and water services were all down in many cities for much of Saturday morning, and communication was problematic.
Television reports showed extensive damage in the Maule region 150 miles south of Santiago. One bridge there, over the Claro River, had collapsed, according to local reports. In Talca, an agricultural and wine zone 150 miles south of Santiago, reported 35 deaths.
This is really scary. Our prayers are with the people of Chile. We’re also praying that there will not be a tsunami as a result of this earthquake.