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Feb 27, 2010 12:20 PM by MSNBC

Huge Chile quake downs buildings

A massive magnitude-8.8 earthquake struck Chile early Saturday, killing at least 64 people, triggering a tsunami and rattling buildings more than 200 miles away.

President Michelle Bachelet declared a "state of catastrophe" in central Chile.

Telephone and power lines were down, making a quick damage assessment difficult in the early morning darkness. At least 13 aftershocks were reported, including one registering at 6.9 on the Richter scale.

The U.S. Geological Survey said the earthquake struck 56 miles northeast of the city of Concepcion at a depth of 22 miles at 3:34 a.m. (1:34 a.m. ET).

Jessica Sigala, a geophysicist with the USGS told NBC News that the quake released 500 times more energy than the than the one that hit Port-au-Prince, Haiti, on January 12. The quake was felt in Buenos Aires, Argentina, which is located more than 800 miles away.

Tsunami warnings were issued for Hawaii and countries including Mexico, Russia, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, Indonesia and the Philippines. NBC station KNHL reported that the first tsunami wave was expected to reach Hawaii's coastline at 11:19 a.m. local time. It warned that "urgent action should be taken to protect lives and property."

"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.

Chile's interior minister confirmed that at least 64 people had been killed.

An Associated Press Television News cameraman said some buildings collapsed in the capital Santiago, which lies about 200 miles north of the epicenter.

In the moments after the quake, people streamed onto the streets of the capital, hugging each other and crying.

Simon Shalders, who lives in Santiago, told Sky News: "There was a lot of movement. The houses were really shaking, walls were moving backwards and forwards, and doors were swinging open.

"Santiago has got a history of earthquakes and basically there's not a lot of old construction in Santiago because of these earthquakes.

"The new buildings in Santiago are designed to withstand fairly strong quakes and they probably held up pretty well."

There were blackouts in parts of Santiago and communications were still down in the area closest to the epicenter.

Eben Harrell, a London-based Time magazine journalist who was visiting Santiago, described the quake as "very frightening". He told msnbc.com that cell phone services were patchy in the city.

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 said. The quake that devastated Port-au-Prince on January 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."

According to a 2002 census, Concepcion is one of the largest cities in Chile with a population of around 670,000.

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 off Chile's Pacific seaboard and continued as far as Hawaii, Japan and the Philippines.

 

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