Chilean Town Laid Waste by Tsunami

A Tsunami trigged by Saturday's earthquake has devastated a coastal village.

March 02, 2010, 2:18 PM

March 2, 2010— -- The pleasant fishing village Constitución, Chile, has been utterly devastated, not only by the 8.8 magnitude earthquake Saturday, but also by the tsunami that followed just minutes later.

There used to be beachfront homes as far as the eye could see, but now it's all gone, along with the hundreds of people who used to live there.

Nearly half of the nearly 800 people who died in the disaster came from this one town, where 350 people were either crushed in their homes or swept out to sea.

Edwardo Parra, an 18-year-old college student whose family lost everything in the disaster, said it has been "hell on earth for the past four days."

The people who live here got no warning to protect themselves from a tsunami, but many already knew from past experience what to do. They live in the Ring of Fire, one of the most seismically active regions in the world, so they knew that an earthquake means they should run for the hills.

Even so, there was utter panic, according to eyewitnesses.

"The lights were out. People were driving. People were running," said Sibony Abarca, who fled for her life with her boyfriend. "Some were naked. They were screaming."

Tsunami warnings were sent to people in Hawaii and Japan after the quake, but no massive waves materialized. Scientists are going through reams of data to find more accurate ways to avoid false alarms, while still efficiently warning affected areas and predicting big waves.

In 1960, a Chilean quake spawned huge waves that killed dozens in Hawaii and Japan.

30-Foot High Tsunami Swept Cars off Road

On Saturday, the tsunami hit the town of Constitución from two sides -- the open ocean to the south and estuary to the north. The waves were 30 feet high, strong enough to lift cars right off the road and rip palm trees out from the ground.

As far as a half mile into town, everything was under water. Just a few miles outside of town, a bus carrying 50 seniors was swept up in the water, killing all the passengers.

Search and rescue teams today were digging through the rubble of a ruined disco on the waterfront while military police kept order. The teams of rescuers were not optimistic as they picked through the debris.

Ariel Morales said he had time to save his family, but not his house. The waves, and the debris it brought along, swept right through it.

"We cannot fix the house, it's over," Ana Maria Morales said as she stood in front of a pile of wooden debris. "We cannot build another one. We don't know what we're going to do."

Concepcion is by far the worst hit town, but same scenes of devastation can be seen up and down Chile's coast.

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