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"State of Catastrophe..." Earthquake Rocks Chile, Pacific Tsunami Expected

Crosswalk.com Staff

"State of Catastrophe..." Earthquake Rocks Chile, Pacific Tsunami Expected

February 27, 2010
Last updated at 8:15p.m.

CNN and other news agencies are reporting that magnitude 8.8 earthquake rocked Chile early Saturday, killing at least 214 people and triggering tsunami warnings for entire Pacific basin. The death toll is expected to rise dramatically.

The 90-second quake's epicenter was more than 200 miles outside the capital of Santiago, but the Associated Press reports that the tremors were felt as far away as Sao Paulo in Brazil -- almost 1,800 miles away.

Oceanographers with the NOAA say the threat of tsunamis continues for regions as far away as Russia and Japan, though Hawaii and other Pacific islands are now in the clear. Water levels in Hawaii rose three feet about 16 hours the earthquake in Chile, relieving experts who had anticipated tsunami waves as tall as 14 feet.

At least 33 aftershocks have been recorded so far, included a 6.3 magnitude quake, CNN reported.

Chilean President Michelle Bachelet has declared "a state of catastrophe" in the country, noting that electricity, phone and water lines are all down in the city of Santiago, according to Fox News.

"Despite this, the system is functioning. People should remain calm. We're doing everything we can with all the forces we have. Any information we will share immediately," Bachelet said, according to Fox News.

U.S. State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley told Fox News: "We are doing a few things. First, our Embassy is reaching out to the Chilean government to offer assistance. Chile has both significant capabilities and strong building codes. Second, the Embassy has activated its Warden system to communicate with Americans in Chile and make sure they are okay. You should check with the Pentagon as well to see what SOUTHCOM is doing."

Witnesses say the quake was unlike any they have experienced, and MSNBC reports the quake may rank among the worst 10 earthquakes ever recorded. Many of Santiago's historic buildings have fallen, and many roadways are reportedly blocked with fallen debri and structures.

Relief groups, already occupied with recovery from the Jan. 12 earthquake in Haiti, are working to coordinate emergency relief efforts.

Relief and development group Samaritan's Purse is working from neighboring Bolivia to bring in truckloads of food and blankets. "We are working with evangelical church partners in the affected areas to assess the needs and determine the locations where we can help..."

Another group, World Vision, says they were not able to reach their staff in Chile overnight.

"This quake will not be like the one in Haiti,"said Steve Matthews of World Vision's global rapid response team. Matthews and other top relief experts are coordinating early plans for World Vision's response in Chile from Haiti and the Dominican Republic, where the aid group continues to respond to the massive quake in Haiti last month.

"Haiti was concentrated and that led to the challenge of tons of aid and hundreds of aid workers being sent into a small zone. This quake off the Chilean coast has potential to reach remote areas and thus it will be extremely difficult to assess the number of deaths and amount of damage, but we can expect that children and families will have taken the brunt of it."

According to Samaritan's Purse, Chile has a history of devastating earthquakes, including the most powerful one ever measured, a 1960 quake that measured 9.5 and killed several thousand people. By comparison, the earthquake that killed over 230,000 people in Haiti Jan. 12 measured 7.0. Each increase of one point represents 32 times more intensity.