Chile Earthquake: Death Toll Soars From 8.8-Magnitude Quake


Rolling aftershocks battered Chile nearly every hour today after an earthquake rocked the country early this morning.

The death toll from the quake climbed throughout the day, and by evening the national emergency office was saying at least 300 people had died in the disaster.

U.S. officials have been unable to reach at least three Americans working with the U.S. Embassy in Chile.

The quake also triggered tsunami warnings in areas as far away as the western coast of the United States, Hawaii and Japan.

Chilean President Michelle Bachelet said that though central Chile was devastated by the earthquake she has not requested international assistance.

"The system is functioning," she said. "People remain calm. We're doing everything we can with all the forces we have."

The U.S. Embassy estimates up to 1,000 American citizens are in the most affected area, but said no American casualties or injuries have been reported. Chile's minister of housing said in an interview on Chilean TV that about 1.5 million houses have been damaged by the earthquake and 500,000 houses are severely damaged.

The earthquake, which hit just after 3 a.m. local time, was 500 times larger than the one that devastated Haiti last month but was much deeper, likely making the number of casualties far fewer than those in the Caribbean nation.

The Chile earthquake struck 22 miles below the surface in the Bío Bío region of the country, while the Haiti earthquake struck only 6 miles below the surface, according to scientists with the U.S. Geological Survey.

The three-minute-long quake struck less than 100 miles north from the southwest coastal city of Concepcion -- the second-largest city in Chile with a population of 670,000 -- but caused damage as far away as the capital Santiago, nearly 200 miles away.

To read all of ABC's coverage on the Chile Earthquake, click here.

A 15-story building collapsed in the city of Concepcion. Television reports from Concepcion showed some residents looting pharmacies and a collapsed grain silo, hauling off bags of wheat, according to reporting by Reuters.

A bridge over the Claro River, located in the Maule region, has also collapsed.

Hospitals in the area have been evacuated, and the airport in Santiago has been shut down for 24 hours due to damage in the terminal, Chilean officials said. Phone lines and power are also out of service in some areas making it difficult to assess the death toll. Meanwhile, the country has been coping with at least 13 aftershocks measuring a magnitude of 5.0 or stronger.

Chilean television has reported that businesses will be closed Monday and Tuesday, and schools will not reopen till March 8.

Carol Urban, an official at the U.S. Embassy in Santiago who has been stationed there for three years, described the earthquake as "long and scary."

"But Chile is in a seismic zone, so the Chileans as well as the Americans at the embassy are always somewhat prepared but this was certainly a surprise to us," she said.

Finding Americans in Chile Earthquake

The U.S. Embassy in Chile is reaching out to any American residents or tourists. For those concerned about family and friends in Chile, visit the State Department Web site at www.state.gov. U.S. citizens can also can call the U.S. State Department number 888-407-4747 to register a name of a loved one.

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