At 3:34 am local timeFebruary 27th, a devastating magnitude 8.8 earthquake struck Chile, one of the strongest earthquakes ever recorded. According to Chilean authorities, over 400 people are now known to have been killed. The earthquake also triggered a Tsunami which is right now propagating across the Pacific Ocean, due to arrive in Hawaii in hours (around 11:00 am local time). The severity of the Tsunami is still not known, but alerts are being issued across the Pacific.
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Chile has scrambled to provide aid to tens of thousands of homeless people in areas devastated by a massive earthquake and tsunamis, and 10,000 troops patrolled to quell looting.
The 8.8 magnitude quake on Saturday killed 711 people and the death toll was expected to rise. Harrowing scenes of destruction emerged in isolated towns swamped by giant waves triggered by one of the strongest quakes in a century.
Many people were still missing in some communities in the worst-hit central region of Chile, which remained largely cut off by mangled highways and fallen telephone lines.
Shortages of drinking water and food worsened the effects of the disaster, while power cuts slowed relief efforts and threatened economic output.
Surging waves ruined houses and smashed cars in fishing villages on the country's long Pacific coast. In the town of Constitucion alone, 350 people were reported to have died and a public gym was turned into a makeshift morgue.
"The tsunami destroyed almost everything on the seafront (and) the centre of the town was completely destroyed. This means lots of people still haven't been accounted for," Constitucion's mayor, Hugo Tilleria, told state television, surrounded by the twisted wreckage of flattened homes.
A curfew went into effect overnight in the Maule region and in the city of Concepcion, where hundreds of looters ransacked stores on Sunday for food and other goods. Looting also broke out over the weekend in parts of the capital, Santiago.
Rescue workers reportedly heard signs of life in the ruins of a collapsed apartment building in Concepcion on Monday and were trying to reach possible survivors. About 60 people were thought to have been killed in the 14-storey building.
"There were answers to our knocks. We are not sure how many people are there, apparently three," firefighter commander Juan Carlos Subercaseaux was quoted as saying by newspaper La Tercera's website.
Television images from small towns along Chile's central Pacific coast showed houses torn from their foundations, cars tossed around like toys and the ground covered in shattered wood and wet mud.
"More than 75 percent of the village is destroyed," said David Merino, a community leader in Dichato on the coast.
"After the earthquake there were three waves. The first two were big and didn't do much damage, but the last one almost wiped the village off the map," he said.
Chilean President Michelle Bachelet, calling the earthquake an "enormous catastrophe," dispatched 10,000 soldiers and imposed curfews on Sunday to restore order and said her government was sending emergency food and medicine supplies.