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A massive magnitude-8.8 earthquake struck south-central Chile yesterday, killing more than a 100 people, knocking down buildings and triggering a tsunami.
Buildings caught fire and residents huddled in streets strewn with glass and masonry, many terrified by powerful aftershocks and desperately trying to call friends and family.
Earlier, President Michelle Bachelet said there were 78 confirmed deaths and that more were possible.
Telephone and power lines were down, making it difficult to assess the full extent of the damage close to the epicentre.
Chile is the world's No1 copper producer, and the quake halted operations at two major mines near the capital. "Never in my life have I experienced a quake like this, it's like the end of the world," one man told local television from the city of Temuco, where the quake damaged homes and forced workers to evacuate the regional hospital.
The US Geological Survey said the earthquake struck 90km northeast of the city of Concepcion at a depth of 35km at 0634GMT.
The capital Santiago, about 320km north of the epicentre, was also badly hit. The international airport was forced to close as the quake destroyed passenger walkways and shook glass out of doors and windows. Local television showed a building in flames in Concepcion and said some residents looted pharmacies and other businesses in the chaos.
Broken glass and masonry were strewn across roads and several strong aftershocks rattled jittery residents in the hours after the initial quake.
In the moments after the quake, people streamed onto the streets of the capital, hugging each other and crying. "My house is completely destroyed, everything fell over… It has been totally destroyed. Me and wife huddled in a corner and after hours they rescued us," said one elderly man in central Santiago. There were blackouts in parts of Santiago and communications were still down in the area closest to the epicenter.
Emergency officials said buildings in the historic quarters of two southern cities had been badly damaged and local radio said three hospitals had partially collapsed.
Chile's main copper producing region and some of the world's largest copper mines are in the far north of the country near its border with Peru, but there are also major copper deposits and mines near Santiago.
Production was halted at the Los Bronces and El Soldado copper mines, owned by Anglo American following the massive earthquake, but Chile's biggest copper mine, Escondida, was operating normally.
Chile produces about 34 per cent of world supply of copper, which is used in electronics, cars and refrigerators.
Tsunami hits Chilean coast
A huge sea wave hit the Juan Fernandez islands off the Chilean coast. Radio stations reported serious damage on the archipelago, where Scottish sailor Alexander Selkirk was marooned in the 18th Century inspiring the novel Robinson Crusoe.
Bachelet said a huge wave swept into the southern island of Juan Fernandez, and radio stations said it caused serious damage.
She said residents were being evacuated from coastal areas of Chile's remote Easter Island, a popular tourist destination famous for its towering Moai statues. The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center said the tsunami may have been destructive along the coast near the epicentre "and could also be a threat to distant coasts".
It issued a Pacific-wide tsunami warning for countries in Latin America, and as far away as the US state of Hawaii as well as Japan, Russia, Philippines, Indonesia and the South Pacific.
The tsunami warning cenre said there was a possibility the US state of Hawaii could be elevated to watch or warning status.
Residents and tourists on Ecuador's Galapagos islands moved to high ground after a Chilean quake generated tsunami warnings.
Later, the White House issued a statement saying it was keeping a close eye on tsunami warning.
Australia and Asia on Alert
Countries across the Pacific Rim are braced for a tsunami from the earthquake off Chile's coast with the first waves, travelling as fast as an airliner, expected to hit as far away as Taiwan within 24 hours.
Wide swaths of the south Pacific, Asia and Australia were put on tsunami watch immediately after the quake yesterday.
Travelling at about 800 kilometres per hour, the waves are expected to reach Australia and Asia early today, and stretch as far north as Alaska. Though notoriously hard to predict, the tsunami were not expected to be as devastating as those generated after a magnitude 9.5 earthquake hit Chile in 1960.
Meanwhile, authorities on the Pacific islands of American Samoa and Samoa urged citizens to take shelter from the tsunami headed their way. Residents were advised to move to higher ground Most countries were awaiting further data on tsunami.
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