Chile Earthquake Death Toll Soars Past 700 as Leader Describes 'Catastrophe'

The Chile earthquake struck 22 miles below the surface in the Bio Bio 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 of Concepcion but caused damage as far away as the capital, Santiago, nearly 200 miles away.

In the hours after Chile's quake, coastal cities from Japan to Australia were placed on alert for a tsunami. Most areas were spared widespread destruction from the waves, though at least five deaths and 11 people missing were reported on Robinson Crusoe Island off Chile, according to the AP.

Ronald Scott, an American who was staying at a hostel in Santiago when the earthquake hit, told ABC News that while he was terrified, the damage he witnessed was far less extensive than what he saw reported from Haiti.

"It was very scary," Scott said. "The first thing I did was jump underneath the first table I could find and even that was about to collapse on me.

"Everything just started jumping up and down, the lights went out and everything sounded like a railroad train," he said. "The buildings were shaking, but they're still standing because of the construction."

Massive Earthquake, Modest Tsunami

The buildings in Chile are constructed specifically to withstand earthquakes, and the country is no stranger to disaster from an unexpected quake.

"Since 1973 they've had 13 earthquakes over 7.7 magnitude," said Paul Earle, a seismologist from the U.S. Geological Survey.

Chile has the record for the world's strongest recorded earthquake -- a 9.5 magnitude quake that struck in 1960.

That earthquake sent a tsunami to Hawaii that killed 61 people and destroyed 500 homes. Tsunami waves triggered by an earthquake can travel at the speed of a jet before slamming into a distant coast as unusually high waves.

This time, Hawaiian officials cleared beaches and sounded alarms for hours before the expected arrival of the tsunami.

But scientists with the Pacific Tsunami Center said the islands "dodged a bullet." Hawaii's tsunami waves, which hit around 1 p.m. Hawaii time, were relatively mild and did not cause any damage.

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

ABC News' Kirit Radia, ABC News Radio and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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