Major earthquake strikes northern Chile, causing damage, some injuries

By Eduardo Gallardo

SANTIAGO, Chile – A major earthquake struck northern Chile on Wednesday, toppling power lines, closing roads and sending terrified residents into the streets. Authorities reported some injuries but no deaths from the quake, which was felt in the capital as well as neighboring Peru and Bolivia.

The earthquake, which struck at 12:40 p.m. local time (10:40 a.m. EST), measured magnitude 7.7 and was centered 780 miles north of Santiago, or 25 miles east-southeast of Tocopilla, the U.S. Geological Survey said.

The USGS said it occurred about 37.3 miles underground – relatively deep – which diminishes the destructive capability of quakes.

The U.S. Pacific Tsunami Warning Center issued a tsunami warning for Chile and Peru but said it was not known whether a giant wave was generated. Presidential spokesman Ricardo Lagos Weber said none was expected because the quake was inland.

Some houses were damaged in the port city of Tocopilla “and some people were injured, apparently none seriously,” said Deputy Interior Minister Felipe Harboe.

Lagos Weber said power was cut in several cities in northern Chile.

Television images showed cars crushed by the collapse of a hotel entryway in Antofagasta, 105 miles south of the epicenter. A reporter for Radio Cooperativa said she saw cracks in the tarmac at the airport in Antofagasta.

“It was horribly strong. It was very long and there was a lot of underground noise,” said Andrea Riveros, spokeswoman for the Park Hotel in Calama, 60 miles from the epicenter and site of the large Chuquicamata copper mine.

She said the quake knocked out power to the hotel, but caused no damage.

At the nearby Agua del Desierto Hotel, administrator Paola Barria said she felt like she was riding on “a floating island.” She reported downed power lines, cracked windows and fallen pieces of houses near the hotel.

“I was very frightened. It was very strong,” she said. “I’ve never felt one that strong.”

In the Bolivian capital of La Paz, 385 miles northeast of the epicenter, some high-rise buildings were evacuated, but there was no apparent damage and people soon returned to their offices.

Stretching along the earthquake-prone Pacific “Ring of Fire,” Chile has suffered many destructive temblors. A 1939 quake killed 28,000 people and in 1960 a magnitude-9.5 quake killed 5,700 people. That remains the most powerful quake on record.

On June 13, 2005, a magnitude 7.8 quake near Tarapaca in northern Chile killed 11 people and left thousands homeless.