Tsunami sweeps away entire town on Chilean coast

When the shaking stopped, Marioli Gatica and her extended family huddled in a circle on the floor of their seaside wooden home in this gritty port town, listening to the radio by a lantern’s light.

Chile quake

A boat lies marooned on a street in Talcahuano, Chile.

They heard firefighters urging Talcahuano’s citizens to stay calm and stay inside. They heard nothing of a tsunami – until it slammed into their house with an unearthly roar about an hour after Saturday’s magnitude 8.8 quake.

Gatica’s house exploded with water. She and her family were swept below the surface, swirling amid loose ship containers and other massive debris that smashed buildings into oblivion all around them.

“We were sitting there one moment and the next I looked up into the water and saw cables and furniture floating,” Gatica said.

She clung to her 11-year-old daughter, Ninoska Elgueta, but the rush of water ripped the girl from her hands. Then the wave retreated as suddenly as it came.

Two of the giant containers crushed Gatica’s home. A third landed seaward of where she floated, preventing the retreating tsunami from dragging her and other relatives away.

Soon Ninoska was back in her mother’s arms – she had grabbed a tree branch to avoid being swept away and climbed down as soon as the sea receded.

Gatica’s son, husband and 76-year-old father were OK as well, as were her sister and her family. The only relative missing was her 76-year-old mother, Nery Valdebenito, Gatica said as she waited in a hundreds-long line outside a school to report her losses.

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Scientists defend warning after tsunami non-event

The warning was ominous, its predictions dire: Oceanographers issued a bulletin telling Hawaii and other Pacific islands that a killer wave was heading their way with terrifying force and that “urgent action should be taken to protect lives and property.”

But the devastating tidal surge predicted after Chile’s magnitude 8.8-earthquake for areas far from the epicenter never materialised. And by Sunday, authorities had lifted the warning after waves half the predicted size tickled the shores of Hawaii and tourists once again jammed beaches and restaurants.

Scientists acknowledged they overstated the threat but defended their actions, saying they took the proper steps and learned the lessons of the 2004 Indonesian tsunami that killed thousands of people who didn’t get enough warning.

“It’s a key point to remember that we cannot under-warn. Failure to warn is not an option for us,” said Dai Lin Wang, an oceanographer at the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center in Hawaii. “We cannot have a situation that we thought was no problem and then it’s devastating. That just cannot happen.”

Hundreds of thousands of people fled shorelines for higher ground Saturday in a panic that circled the Pacific Rim after scientists warned 53 nations and territories that a tsunami had been generated by the massive Chilean quake.

It was the largest-scale evacuation in Hawaii in years, if not decades. Emergency sirens blared throughout the day, the Navy moved ships out of Pearl Harbor, and residents hoarded gasoline, food and water in anticipation of a major disaster. Some supermarkets even placed limits on items like Spam because of the panic buying.

At least five people were killed by the tsunami on Robinson Crusoe Island off Chile’s coast and huge waves devastated the port city of Talcahuano, near hard-hit Concepcion on Chile’s mainland.

But the threat of monster waves that left Hawaii’s sun-drenched beaches empty for hours never appeared _ a stark contrast to the tidal surge that killed 230,000 people around the Indian Ocean in 2004 and flattened entire communities.

This time, waves of more than 5 feet were reported in Kahului Bay in Maui and in Hilo, on the eastern coast of Hawaii’s Big Island, but did little damage. Predictions of wave height in some areas were off by as much as 50 percent.

In Tonga, where up to 50,000 people fled inland hours ahead of the tsunami, the National Disaster Office had reports of a wave up to 6.5 feet (1.98 meters) hitting a small northern island, with no indications of damage.

And in Japan, where authorities ordered 400,000 people out of coastal communities, the biggest wave was a 4-foot (1.22-meter) surge that hit the northern island of Hokkaido, flooding some piers.

After the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center lifted its warning, some countries kept their own watches in place as a precaution. Early Monday, the Japan Meteorological Agency warned of a possible tsunami about a foot and a half in size along its entire Pacific coast and told people to stay away from the waterfront. That warning was cleared later Monday morning.

Scientists offered no apologies for the warnings and defended their work, all while worrying that the false alarm could lead to complacency among coastal residents _ a disastrous possibility in the earthquake-prone Pacific Rim.

A similar quake in Chile in 1960 created a tsunami that killed about 140 people in Japan. The same surge hit Hawaii and devastated downtown Hilo, on the Big Island, killing 61 residents and wiping out more than 500 homes and businesses.

“If you give too many warnings and none of them materialize, then you lose your credibility,” Wang said. “That’s something that we have to deal with and we have to improve.”

Despite some of the panic in Hawaii, public officials called the evacuation “perfect” and said it was a good test case that proved the system worked.

Chile quake toll rises to 708

 

A collapsed bridge over the Claro river is seen near the town of Camarico, Chile on Saturday. An 8.8-magnitude quake and a resulting tsunami killed more than 300 people in Chile.

The toll in the devastating earthquake in Chile has risen to 708, Chilean President Michelle Bachelet said.

The country was facing “a catastrophe of such unthinkable magnitude” and will need enormous efforts to recover, he said at a press conference Sunday, adding the fatalities may increase as the rescue efforts are continuing, Xinhua reported.

An earthquake measuring 8.8 on the Richter scale rocked Chile last Saturday, causing widespread destruction.

Chile minister says navy made mistake on tsunami

A man walks past a destroyed road in Talcahuano, Chile, on Sunday, following a devastating earthquake that occurred on Saturday

Chile’s defence minister said on Sunday that the navy made a mistake by not immediately issuing a tsunami warning after a mammoth earthquake, a step that could have helped coastal villagers flee to higher ground sooner.

Francisco Vidal said, however, that an alarm was later sounded by port captains. He said that saved hundreds if not thousands of lives.

“The navy committed an error in not alerting the tsunami,” Mr Vidal said at a news conference.

Immediately after Saturday’s magnitude-8.8 quake, President Michelle Bachelet played down the threat of a tsunami, saying large waves were expected but no tsunami.

However, several coastal communities were smashed into by what authorities later recognized were tsunami waves.

Mr Vidal said that fortunately the navy has an emergency plan that allows navy officials in each port to sound alarms automatically when a rise in the sea is observed without waiting for an order from above. In this case, port captains sounded an alarm alerting coastal populations.

“With this system, in spite of the diagnostic error, the people could be warned to head to the hills,” Mr Vidal said.

Thirty minutes passed between the quake and waves that inundated coastal towns.

Many of the more than 708 known dead from the quake were in Chile’s coastal regions swamped by the tsunami. Among those hit were San Juan Bautista village on Robinson Crusoe Island, the port of Talcahuano and Vichato in the BioBio region.

The surge of water raced across the Pacific, leading officials in 53 nations to post warnings. But the waves proved small as they moved past Hawaii and on to such places as Australia, Tonga, Japan and Russia.

Tiny tsunami reaches Japan; Pacific damage small

Local residents in Shichigahama, Miyagi Prefecture (state), northern Japan, look at a wave washing stairs built on the shore at a fishing port on Sunday. The initial waves which struck Japan did not cause any damage

The tsunami from an earthquake in Chile hit Japan’s main islands on Sunday, but the initial waves washed ashore without causing any damage after sparing most of the Pacific islands that were in its path.

Japan’s Meteorological Agency said the biggest wave in the initial tsunami following the magnitude 8.8 quake off Chile was recorded in northern Japan. It was 35 inches (90 centimetres) high. Another, measuring about 12 inches (30 centimetres), was observed in Hokkaido, also to the north. There were no reports of damage.

As it crossed the Pacific, the tsunami has dealt populated areas — including the U.S. state of Hawaii — just a glancing blow.

The Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre already lifted its warning for every country but Russia and Japan, though some countries in Asia and the Pacific — including the Philippines, Australia and New Zealand — were keeping their own watches in place as a precaution.

The tsunami initially raised fears that the Pacific could fall victim to the type of killer waves that killed 230,000 people in the Indian Ocean in 2004 the morning after Christmas. During that disaster, there was little to no warning and much confusion about the impending waves.

Officials said the opposite occurred after the Chile quake: They overstated their predictions for the size of the waves and the threat.

“We expected the waves to be bigger in Hawaii, maybe about 50 percent bigger than they actually were,” said Gerard Fryer, a geophysicist for the warning centre. “We’ll be looking at that.”

But Japan, fearing the tsunami could gain force as it moved closer, put all of its eastern coastline on tsunami alert Sunday and ordered hundreds of thousands of residents in low-lying areas to seek higher ground as waves generated by the Chilean earthquake raced across the Pacific at hundreds of miles (kilometers) per hour.

Japan is particularly sensitive to the tsunami threat.

In July 1993 a tsunami triggered by a major earthquake off Japan’s northern coast killed more than 200 people on the small island of Okushiri. A stronger quake near Chile in 1960 created a tsunami that killed about 140 people in Japan.

Towns along northern coasts issued evacuation orders to 400,000 residents, Japan’s national broadcaster, NHK, said. NHK switched to emergency mode, broadcasting a map with the areas in most danger and repeatedly urging caution.

As the wave continued its expansion across the ocean, Japan’s Meteorological Agency said its tsunami alert applied to its entire Pacific coast, with the waves expected to be biggest in the north. It said a tsunami of up to 9.8 feet (3 meters) could hit the northern prefectures of Aomori, Iwate and Miyagi, though the first waves were much smaller.

People packed their families into cars, but there were no reports of panic or traffic jams. Fishermen secured their boats, and police patrolled beaches, using sirens and loudspeakers to warn people to leave the area.

Elsewhere, however, the tsunami passed quietly.

By the time the tsunami hit Hawaii — a full 16 hours after the quake — officials had already spent the morning ringing emergency sirens, blaring warnings from airplanes and ordering residents to higher ground.

The islands were back to paradise by the afternoon, but residents endured a severe disruption and scare earlier in the day: Picturesque beaches were desolate, million-dollar homes were evacuated, shops in Waikiki were shut down, and residents lined up at supermarkets to stock up on food and at gas stations.

Waves hit California, but barely registered amid stormy weather. A surfing contest outside San Diego went on as planned.

In Tonga, where up to 50,000 people fled inland hours ahead of the tsunami, the National Disaster Office had reports of a wave up to 6.5 feet (2 meters) high hitting a small northern island, deputy director Mali’u Takai said. There were no initial indications of damage.

Nine people died in Tonga last September when the Samoa tsunami slammed the small northern island of Niuatoputapu, wiping out half of the main settlement.

In Samoa, where 183 people died in the tsunami five months ago, thousands remained Sunday morning in the hills above the coasts on the main island of Upolu, but police said there were no reports of waves or sea surges hitting the South Pacific nation.

Villagers living close to the Philippines’ eastern coast were advised to move to higher ground, said Renato Solidum, the chief of the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology. He said a wave of about 3.2 feet (1 meter) high could hit early in the afternoon.

“We’re not expecting any huge tsunami so we’re just urging everybody to take precautions,” Solidum told The Associated Press.

On New Zealand’s Chatham Islands earlier Sunday, officials reported a wave measured at 6.6 feet (2 meters).

Oceanographer Ken Gledhill said it was typical tsunami behaviour when the sea water dropped a meter off North Island’s east coast at Gisborne then surged back.

Several hundred people in the North Island coastal cities of Gisborne and Napier were evacuated from their homes and from camp grounds, while residents in low-lying areas on South Island’s Banks Peninsula were alerted to be ready to evacuate.

New Zealand’s Ministry of Civil Defence and Emergency Management downgraded the national warning to an advisory Sunday afternoon and in the Cook Islands police issued an all-clear midmorning Sunday.

In Australia, the Bureau of Meteorology reported a tsunami measuring 1.6 feet (0.5 meters) off Norfolk Island, about 1,000 miles (1,600 kilometers) northeast of Sydney. There were no immediate reports of damage.

More than 300 dead in massive Chilean earthquake

A collapsed bridge over the Claro river is seen near the town of Camarico, Chile on Saturday. An 8.8-magnitude quake and a resulting tsunami killed more than 300 people in Chile

Chilean authorities were assessing the damage from a massive earthquake that killed more than 300 people, as Asian nations braced Sunday for the resulting tsunami that was still racing across the Pacific Ocean.
Hundreds of people were missing and feared trapped under the rubble of buildings that buckled under the force of the 8.8 magnitude quake, the strongest to hit the South American nation since 1960.
The earthquake occurred at 3:34 am (0634 GMT) Saturday, some 90 kilometres north—east of Concepcion, a city of 630,000 in Chile’s central coastal region.
Significant damage was reported in the capital Santiago, 320 kilometres north of the epicentre, affecting buildings, roads and closing the international airport.
Waves of 1.5 metres or less were reported in Hawaii, New Zealand and Australia. Comprehensive coastal warnings were issued in Japan, where the Chilean tsunami was expected Sunday afternoon with a height of up to 3 metres, and coastal residents on the Philippines Pacific shores fled for high ground in fear of the waves.
Some coastal areas of Chile were quickly struck by a post—quake wave, devastating some communities.
A wall of water swept across the Chilean island of Robinson Crusoe, 670 kilometres off the coast. Three people were reported missing on the island.
President Michelle Bachelet declared a state of disaster in the worst—hit regions south of Santiago. “I have no doubt that we will make it through this,” she said in a nationally televised address.
Sebastian Pinera, who takes over from her as head of state on March 11, appealed for solidarity.
The death toll rose throughout Saturday, reaching more than 300 by sundown. Authorities warned that more fatalities were likely.
In Conception, 150 people were feared trapped in a fallen, 14— storey apartment block.
“From the street we can hear the screaming of those who were caught under the new, 14—floor building,” one man said looking at the pile of rubble.
There were reports of unrest in one Santiago neighbourhood over shortages of water and power outages.
Santiago’s international airport was ordered closed to incoming and outgoing flights for at least three days, with a collapse reported in the terminal building. The city’s underground rail network was also closed.
Overturned cars littered motorway flyovers, which buckled and crumbled during the quake.
Power lines were down, water supplies were cut and burst gas pipes raised fears of explosions. Internet communications were disrupted and mobile phone networks badly damaged.
In Concepcion, damage was widespread. The offices of the region government were reported to have been destroyed, and the walls of the city’s prison collapsed, with hundreds of convicts reported to have escaped.
Chilean television showed footage of collapsed hospitals, burning buildings and wrecked bridges.Modern, high—rise buildings in Santiago were relatively unscathed by the quake and the scores of aftershocks.
With Chile’s prosperity and seismic history, the country has for decades required new construction to conform to earthquake-zone engineering standards.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon offered “rapid assistance” if sought by Chile. In Washington, President Barack Obama offered to deploy US resources “should the Chilean people need our help.” The quake was 50 times more powerful than the one that claimed more than 200,000 lives on January 12 Haiti, said the head of the University of Santiago’s Seismological Institute, Sergio Barrientos.
The worst earthquake to hit Chile occurred in 1960, when a 9.5—magnitude quake and tsunami claimed 6,000 lives.

Asia braces for tsunami after Chile quake

This TV grab shows people looking through the rubble of a home in Santiago, Chile, following an earthquake early on Saturday morning

 Wide swaths of the south Pacific, Asia and Australia braced for a tsunami after a devastating earthquake hit the coast of Chile on Saturday.

Officials in Japan and Australia warned a tsunami from the earthquake was likely to hit Asian, Australian and New Zealand shores within 24 hours. The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center in Hawaii issued a tsunami warning that included Philippines, Taiwan, Indonesia, and many island nations in the Pacific. A lower-level advisory that a tsunami was possible was issued for northern Pacific locations, including the U.S. West Coast and Alaska.

“Sea-level readings confirm that a tsunami has been generated which could cause widespread damage,” the center said in a bulletin after the 8.8-magnitude quake. “Authorities should take appropriate action to respond to this threat.”

The center noted that the first waves after a quake are not necessarily the largest and said tsunami wave heights are difficult to predict because they can vary significantly along a coast due to the local topography.

Earthquakes across the Pacific have had deadly effects on Asia in the past.

A tsunami after a magnitude-9.5 quake that struck Chile in 1960, the largest earthquake ever recorded, killed about 140 people in Japan, 61 in Hawaii and 32 in the Philippines. That tsunami was about 3.3 to 13 feet (one to four meters) in height, Japan’s Meteorological Agency said.

The tsunami from Saturday’s quake was likely to be much smaller because the quake itself was not as strong.

Japanese public broadcaster NHK quoted earthquake experts as saying the tsunami would likely be tens of centimeters (inches) high and reach Japan in about 22 hours. A tsunami of 28 centimeters (11 inches) was recorded after a magnitude-8.4 earthquake near Chile in 2001.

The Meteorological Agency said it was still investigating the likelihood of a tsunami from the magnitude-8.8 quake and did not issue a formal coastal warning.

Australia, meanwhile, was put on a tsunami watch.

The Joint Australian Tsunami Warning Center issued a warning for a “potential tsunami threat” to New South Wales state, Queensland state, Lord Howe Island and Norfolk Island. Any potential wave would not hit Australia until Sunday morning local time, it said.

The Philippine Institute of Vulcanology and Seismology issued a low-level alert saying people should await further notice of a possible tsunami. It did not recommend evacuations.

The earthquake that struck early on Saturday in central Chile shook the capital for a minute and a half.