8.8-Magnitude Hits Chile

An 8.8 magnitude earthquake struck Chile early this morning. The quake was centered near Concepcion, which is about 200 miles from the capital city of Santiago. Host Scott Simon speaks with Randy Baldwin, a geophysicist with the U.S. Geological Survey, about the massive earthquake.

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SCOTT SIMON, host:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.

A massive earthquake has struck Chile this morning killing dozens of people. We're joined by Randy Baldwin, a geophysicist with the U.S. Geological Survey in Golden, Colorado. They study earthquakes. Mr. Baldwin, thanks for being with us.

Dr. RANDY BALDWIN (Geophysicist, U.S. Geological Survey): Yes, good morning.

SIMON: What do we know about this one?

Dr. BALDWIN: Well, this is a magnitude 8.8 earthquake that struck at 3:34 a.m. local time at the epicenter. This quake occurred along the western coastal region of Chile and located approximately 70 miles northeast of Concepcion, Chile, and also about 200 miles southwest of Santiago, Chile.

SIMON: And is the damage that an earthquake of this size can do also dictated by factors like landscape and proximity to population centers?

Dr. BALDWIN: Well, this is such a large quake that probably one of the more important factors of assessing any damage potential would be just the proximity to the location of the epicenter of the quake. Certainly construction practices and the like in any one area, you know, would also have an effect. However, distance might be, you know, in the favor of quite a few people in this particular case.

Although, they're, you know, Concepcion, the second-largest city, is about 70 miles away and there have been reports of damage both there and in Santiago.

SIMON: Right. Concepcion, I gather, is a city of about 200,000 people.

Dr. BALDWIN: Yes, that's correct.

SIMON: And aftershocks have to be a concern.

Dr. BALDWIN: Well, there's going to be constant aftershocks. We have identified probably at least five that are magnitude six or greater and they're happening every few minutes. So, that's a trend that they should expect to continue for the next days and even weeks.

SIMON: And tell us about this wall of water that is reportedly headed to Hawaii. A tsunami watch is in effect there.

Dr. BALDWIN: Well, initially, the earthquake created a small local wave that impacted the coastlines of both Peru and Chile. It generated a small wave that was about three or four feet in height. However, as this wave has moved out and propagated out into the Pacific Basin, the Pacific Tsunami Warning Centers have sent revised and reissued several statements for people, you know, on the various islands in the Pacific Basin.

SIMON: And there'll be, I guess, plenty of time for them to evacuate, get to higher ground?

Dr. BALDWIN: Well, that would be the hope, would that the warnings would be heeded and people could take the necessary precautions.

SIMON: Mr. Baldwin, I think a lot of people have to be wondering - we begin the year in a sense with this devastating earthquake in Haiti and now we have one on the graph, at least, is even larger in Chile - is something going on?

Dr. BALDWIN: Well, on any given year there are usually 15 or more large, very large earthquakes around the world. So, you know, I dont know how we stand for the tally thus far but they certainly do happen and they certainly do happen especially in areas like this. This particular area has produced numerous large damaging earthquakes in the past. And the reason for that is that it's located along one of earth's boundaries between the South American plate and the Nazca plate.

And this is an area where the Nazca plate is diving beneath the South American plate, and right along that intersection is where the earthquakes occur. So, it's a longstanding process that has produced many large quakes in the past.

SIMON: Randy Baldwin with the U.S. Geological Survey. Thank you so much.

Dr. BALDWIN: You're welcome.

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