SANTIAGO, Chile – A massive 8.8-magnitude earthquake capable of tremendous damage struck central Chile early Saturday, shaking the capital for a minute and a half and setting off a tsunami.
Buildings collapsed and phone lines and electricity were down, making the extent of the damage difficult to determine. At least 6 people were killed, President Michele Bachelet said.
“We have had a huge earthquake,” Bachelet said, speaking from an emergency response center in an appeal for Chileans to remain calm. “We’re doing everything we can with all the forces we have. Any information we will share immediately.”
Bachelet said early reports were that six people had been killed, and “without a doubt, with an earthquake of this magnitude, there will be more deaths.”
She urged people to avoid traveling in the dark, since traffic lights are down, to avoid causing more fatalities.
The quake hit at 3:34 a.m. (0634 GMT; 1:34 a.m. EST) and was centered 200 miles (325 kilometers) southwest of the capital, Santiago, at a depth of 22 miles (35 kilometers) the U.S. Geological Survey reported.
The epicenter was just 70 miles (115 kilometers) from Concepcion, Chile’s second-largest city, where more than 200,000 people live along the Bio Bio river, and 60 miles from the ski town of Chillan, a gateway to Andean ski resorts that was destroyed in a 1939 earthquake.
An Associated Press Television News cameraman said some buildings have collapsed in Santiago, where power was out in parts of the city. An important church was among the buildings that came down in the central city of Providencia, where window glass shattered into the streets and people ran from multistory buildings, according to TV Chile.
The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center issued a warning for Chile and Peru, and a less-urgent tsunami watch for Ecuador, Colombia, Panama, Costa Rica and Antarctica. It said a tsunami could also hit Hawaii later in the day.
“Sea level readings indicate a tsunami was generated. It may have been destructive along coasts near the earthquake epicenter and could also be a threat to more distant coasts,” the center said.
The U.S. west coast tsunami warning center said it did not expect a tsunami along the west of the U.S. or Canada but was continuing to monitor the situation.
The largest earthquake ever recorded struck the same area of Chile on May 22, 1960. The magnitude-9.5 quake killed 1,655 people and left 2 million homeless. The tsunami that it caused killed people in Hawaii, Japan and the Philippines and caused damage to the West Coast of the United States.