At least three dead as powerful quake hits Chile


SANTIAGO, Chile At least three people were killed in an 8.3-magnitude earthquake that shook Chile late Wednesday, disrupting transport and communications as waves caused by the tremor hit the coast.

The quake cut off roads and caused blackouts, and many buildings collapsed.

"There are many collapsed walls. Many houses, mainly those made of adobe, whose walls were brought to the ground. And people are very scared," Bernardo Leyton, mayor of Canela, near the epicenter, told the radio station Bio Bio.

Chilean President Michelle Bachelet said three people had been killed, and that she would travel to the affected areas on Thursday.

Reports based on information from local authorities said there were four dead.

Police in the town of Limari said two people died, newspaper El Mercurio reported. One man died of a heart attack in the town of Maipu, the mayor was quoted by Chilean daily La Tercera as saying.

The mayor of Illapel, the town closest to the epicenter, said a woman had died there after being hit by a collapsing wall, according to La Tercera.

The United States Geological Survey measured the quake's magnitude at 8.3, while the Chilean National Quake Center said it was 8.4.

"Once again, we have to deal with a tough blow from nature," Bachelet said in a televised address.

She recommended that people who have been evacuated to higher ground should stay there until further notice.

Four-meter-high waves were reported in Coquimbo, and the mayor said the city was largely under water. Smaller tsunami waves were reported in Valparaiso, Concon and other Chilean cities.

Coastal areas around Chile were evacuated for fear of a tsunami.

The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center earlier warned of tsunami waves of more than 3 meters high.

The quake was felt as far away as Buenos Aires, a distance of more than 1,200 kilometers. Several buildings in the Argentinian capital were preventively evacuated.

U.S. government geologists said the quake's center was below the Pacific, 25 kilometers off the central Chilean town of Illapel, in the Coquimbo region, and 228 kilometers north-north-west of Santiago. The quake was 8 kilometers deep, according to the USGS.

"We are very scared. This is a panicking town," said Illapel Mayor Denis Cortes.

Several people were injured in the town, where a few older buildings collapsed, Cortes said.

Chilean government spokesman Marcelo Diaz called for calm so that necessary measures could be adopted.

"We were in the office and we felt a very strong, very long quake," Diaz was quoted as saying on the website of the daily El Mercurio.

The USGS reported at least four aftershocks with a magnitude above 6.

Santiago airport was temporarily evacuated, although the city's subway remained operational. School lessons were cancelled for Thursday in much of Chile.

Tsunami warnings were in place for Southern California, although the authorities did not expect large waves, and even as far away as New Zealand, across the Pacific. A tsunami watch was briefly in place for Hawaii.

Chile, on the Pacific, is a quake-prone country. On Feb. 27, 2010, an 8.8-magnitude quake and resulting tsunami killed more than 500 people and caused major damage across the country.

In 1939, a 7.8-magnitude quake claimed the lives of 28,000 people, and the biggest quake ever measured, 9.5 on the Richter scale, also happened in Chile, in 1960, killing 1,655 people.

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