Santiago, Chile: A massive magnitude-8.8 earthquake struck south-central Chile early on Saturday, killing at least 47 people, knocking down buildings and triggering a tsunami.
President Michelle Bachelet confirmed 47 deaths and said more were possible. Telephone and power lines were down, making damage assessments difficult in the early morning darkness.
“Never in my life have I experienced a quake like this, it’s like the end of the world,” one man told local television from the city of Temuco, where the quake damaged buildings and forced staff to evacuate the regional hospital.
The US Geological Survey said the earthquake struck 56 miles (90 km) northeast of the city of Concepcion at a depth of 22 miles (35 km) at 3:34 am (0634 GMT).
Chilean television and radio stations said several buildings collapsed in the city of Curico and that there was damage to buildings in the historic center of the capital Santiago, about 200 miles (320 km) north of the epicenter.
The capital’s international airport was forced to close, a highway bridge collapsed and chunks of buildings fell into the street.
In the moments after the quake, people streamed onto the streets of the capital, hugging each other and crying.
There were blackouts in parts of Santiago and communications were still down in the area closest to the epicenter.
Bachelet urged people to stay calm. “With a quake of this size we undoubtedly can’t rule out more deaths and probably injuries,” she said.
An earthquake of magnitude 8 or over can cause “tremendous damage,” the USGS says. The quake that devastated Haiti’s capital Port-au-Prince on Jan. 12 was rated magnitude 7.0.
The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center said the Chile quake generated a tsunami that may have been destructive along the coast near the epicenter “and could also be a threat to more distant coasts.”
It issued a tsunami warning for Chile and Peru, and a tsunami watch for Ecuador, Colombia, Panama, Costa Rica and Antarctica. Chile’s navy said officials had lifted the tsunami warning in southern Chile, local radio reported.
According to a 2002 census, Concepcion is one of the largest cities in Chile with a population of around 670,000.
Chile’s main copper producing region and some of the world’s largest copper mines are in the far north of the country near its border with Peru, but there are also major copper deposits near Santiago. Officials said roads to the important Los Bronces mine near the capital were blocked.
Chile produces about 34% of world supply of copper, which is used in electronics, cars and refrigerators.
In 1960, Chile was hit by the world’s biggest earthquake since records dating back to 1900.
The 9.5 magnitude quake devastated the south-central city of Valdivia, killing 1,655 people and sending a tsunami which battered Easter Island 2,300 miles (3,700 km) off Chile’s Pacific seaboard and continued as far as Hawaii, Japan and the Philippines.
Saturday’s quake shook buildings as far away as Argentina’s Andean provinces of Mendoza and San Juan. A series of strong aftershocks rocked Chile’s coastal region from Valdivia in southern to Valparaiso, about 500 miles (800 km) to the north.
The tsunami warning center said there was a possibility the US state of Hawaii could be elevated to watch or warning status.