Chile's Major Earthquake Claims Nine Lives

SANTIAGO, Chile, June 14, 2005 (ENS) - A major earthquake of a magnitude 7.9 rattled the mountains of northern Chile Monday afternoon, leaving nine people dead and injuring an estimated 100 others.

The epicenter of the quake was located 115 kilometers (70 miles) east-northeast of the coastal city of Iquique and about 1515 km (940 miles) north of the capital, Santiago. The quake was felt in Iquique where some buildings were damaged, but no one was injured.

The town of Huara, in the province of Tarapacá, lies closest to the center of the quake. People died as their homes collapsed around them and in landslides on the road as they tried to escape to Iquique in their cars. In Sibaya, an infant disappeared, presumably trapped under the rubble, officials said.

The Office of National Emergencies of the Ministry of the Interior (ONEMI) has established a Red Alert for Chile's Region I, a measure that authorizes immediate use of emergency resources. Emergency airlift operations began today at daybreak led by the vice president and the ministers of interior, public works, housing, health, and the director of ONEMI.


President Ricardo Lagos is on his way back to Chile from Europe. (Photo courtesy Office of the President)
Chilean President Ricardo Lagos, suspended his official visit to Europe to return to the country and to visit the earthquake affected region.

"I want to express my tremendous concern with what has happened in Chile," the President said. "I have been in contact with Vice President Francisco Vidal, who left at six in the morning with five ministers to visit the zone of the catastrophe."

"The information which we have from ONEMI is still preliminary, and we cannot yet know exactly what has happened in the interior. The towns of the interior, although they have some little population, are quite isolated," said President Lagos upon his arrival at the Swedish Parliament, the last activity of his visit to Europe before returning to Chile.

Roads across the region are blocked by landslides and rockfalls, halting public buses, and several bridges are damaged.


In the hills near Huara are found the archaeological geoglyphes of Chiza that are dated 1000 to 1400 years before Christ. (Photo courtesy Jean Béliveau)
In some towns up to 90 percent of homes were damaged by the quake. Schools are closed today across the earthquake zone until education authorities can evaluate the structural soundness of the school buildings.

The electricity and water service is still out of commission in some towns, although in a few places, authorities have managed to restore electric power.

At daybreak, a plane left Santiago for the stricken zone carrying 15 tons of relief supplies such as tents, blankets and food.

Drinking water problems have been reported across the affected region. In the Codpa area, a landslide buried a pool that was a source of drinking water, leaving the community thirsty.

The Minister of Interior Francisco Vidal Salinas has constituted the Regional Committee of Emergency Operations. He says technical personnel are evaluating the situation across the earthquake affected area so that measures for the reestablishment of the zone can be put in place.