Deadly Quake Hits Chile; Sparks Tsunami
GUY RAZ, host:
(Soundbite of music)
This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Guy Raz.
President MICHELLE BACHELET (Chile): (Foreign Language Spoken)
RAZ: That's Chile's President Michelle Bachelet briefing reporters today on the devastating earthquake that struck off the southern coast of the country early this morning. The southern city of Concepcion was hit hardest by the magnitude 8.8 earthquake. It was among the most powerful earthquakes in recorded history, releasing 500 times as much energy as last month's quake in Haiti. Now, while the death toll is not expected to come anywhere close to that in Haiti, damage will almost certainly cost billions.
Eduardo Gallardo, a retired bureau chief for the Associated Press, was in Santiago when it hit.
Mr. EDUARDO GALLARDO (Former Bureau Chief, Associated Press): It was very, very strong. I've been through several earthquakes in Chile for a long time and this is probably one of the strongest that I've felt.
RAZ: The concern since then, aside from the aftershocks, is a tsunami that was triggered by the quake. It continues to move across the Pacific Ocean and has already caused large waves in parts of Mexico and Southern California.
In Hawaii, sirens sounded earlier today, warning people living in low-lying areas to evacuate.
(Soundbite of siren)
Across the islands, emergency radio broadcasts were switched on.
Unidentified Man#1: And a tsunami warning is in effect for the state of Hawaii. (Unintelligible) should be taken to protect life and property.
RAZ: Tidal surges reached as high as seven feet, but an official with the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center said Hawaii had dodged a bullet.
Here in Washington, President Obama offered American aid to help Chile.
President BARACK OBAMA: The United States stands ready to assist in the rescue and recovery efforts, and we have resources that are positioned to deploy should the Chilean government ask for our help.
RAZ: The quake rattled Chile's capital, Santiago. It's about 200 miles northeast of the epicenter. Time magazine reporter Eben Harrell was there working on a story and he described where he was when the quake hit.
Mr. EBEN HARRELL (Journalist, Time magazine): I was in a bar in a popular downtown neighborhood, Bella Vista, when the earthquake struck and there was a scramble to get out of the bar. And what I remember most is sort of the soundtrack, which was one of total sort of geological silence and there was just sort of the running soundtrack of broken glass on top of that eerie silence, and to be sort of moved around with such violence without any sort of like tell-tale sign. You know, there's no sort of rumbling or explosive feeling under foot. It was just literally like the world had come unglued.
RAZ: And did it feel like it was long?
Mr. HARRELL: That was the other thing is that I had been in earthquakes as a child growing up in Southern California and I remember when I realized it was an earthquake, I remember, you know, sort of telling myself I, you know, I've been through this before; it's fine, and then there was a moment where I was like, my god, this isn't stopping. And it seemed to go on for a very, very long time.
RAZ: When you left that bar after the earthquake, did you see people on the streets? Were there people talking? I mean, were you able to ask people or exchange views with people or just sort of say, oh, my gosh, you know, are you okay? I mean, was any of that going on?
Mr. HARRELL: Yeah, I was carrying a map, which identified me as a tourist, obviously. And people - probably 10 people, 12 people, a dozen people came up to me and offered their assistance. One man came up and just put his hand on my shoulder and looked me in the eye and said, welcome to Chile.
Mr. HARRELL: You know, I don't want to make too much of the positives while there's such human tragedy going on elsewhere. But for me personally, having lived through this, it was very, very encouraging to see what a plum and graciousness the population in Santiago did. And I spent three hours sort of walking through the dark trying to find my way back to my hotel and I never once felt unsafe. It was a very, very encouraging surprise.
RAZ: Are there buildings or streets that are clearly damaged by the earthquake?
Mr. HARRELL: I'm happy to report that structurally, the city remains quite sound. The exception are the old buildings, mostly churches. I've been to quite a few neighborhoods whose neighborhood church is truly rubble.
RAZ: You are about 200 miles north of the epicenter. The city of Concepcion is the closest largest city. Do you have any plans to go to Concepcion? Can you get there?
Mr. HARRELL: Yes, that's the other thing is, you know, the journalists and the NGOs and others are trying to figure out how we can get there. We're told that the bridges are down, so there's just no - it's impassable. It certainly seems like there's no sort of simple way there and I think that's one of the problems that the emergency responders have been having.
RAZ: Have you felt any aftershocks? And, I mean, you're in a hotel, in a high-rise hotel, so have those been pretty intense?
Mr. HARRELL: Yeah. I've been up and down the stairs half a dozen times because every time it shakes, you know, we've been told to evacuate. Some of them are so strong that you sort of, you kind of get this feeling like I thought we were done with this, you know, and you start getting a sense of sort of earthquake fatigue is the only way I can describe it.
I expect there'll be more and, you know, I didn't sleep last night and I can't imagine I'll get a good night sleep tonight. And so you realize that for people who may have lost their homes or suffered injuries, to pick up the pieces while dealing with that sort of sense of unease and anxiety, it must be very, very difficult.
RAZ: That's Eben Harrell. He's a reporter for Time magazine in Santiago, Chile.
Eben Harrell, thanks so much.
Mr. HARRELL: Thank you.
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