Santiago (Chile), Feb.28 (ANI): Chile's President Michelle Bachelet has revealed that the earthquake hitting her country on Saturday has so far claimed the lives of at least 300 people and affected over two million.
"The power of nature has again struck our country," Bachelet said in a nation-wide address, and declared that six of Chile's 15 regions were now "catastrophe zones" in the aftermath of the 8.8-magnitude quake.
"This is a catastrophe of immense proportions, so it will be very difficult to give precise figures," The Telegraph quoted Interior Minister Edmundo Perez Yoma, as saying.
Waves well over two meters (seven feet) high crashed into the Chilean coast after the quake struck at 3:34 a.m. local time Saturday, and tore out into the Pacific, killing at least five people in the remote Robinson Crusoe islands.
In the Chilean port of Talcahuano, trawlers were sent shooting inland to the town square where they lay oddly marooned next to abandoned cars.
About 50 countries and territories along an arc stretching from New Zealand to Japan braced for giant waves, five years after the Indian Ocean tsunami disaster that killed more than 220,000 people.
More than 70,000 people fled vulnerable coastal areas of Japan Sunday as a tsunami slammed into the country's long Pacific coastline.
The first tsunami wave, 30 centimetres (one foot) high, hit Nemuro on the northern island of Hokkaido in the early afternoon, the Meteorological Agency said.
The massive quake plunged much of Santiago into darkness, snapping power lines, severing communications. The international airport was closed after sustaining significant damage to the terminal.
Many Chileans were still in nightclubs partying at the start of the weekend when the quake struck before dawn, ripping up roads, bringing roofs crashing down and toppling power lines.
President Barack Obama said 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."
The total value of economic damage caused by the quake is likely to range between 15 billion and 30 billion dollars, a US risk modeling firm predicted.
Chile's Foreign Minister Mariano Fernandez asked countries that had offered aid to hold off until local authorities could assess the emergency needs.
The US Geological Survey said it had recorded more than 51 aftershocks ranging from 4.9 to 6.9 since the quake.
Earthquake-prone Chile lies along the Pacific rim of fire and is regularly rocked by quakes, but damage is often limited as they mostly hit in remote desert regions.
It was the second major earthquake to hit the Western hemisphere in seven weeks after more than 200,000 people were killed in Haiti last month by a 7.0-magnitude quake.
The epicenter was just a few hundred miles north of the biggest earthquake on record, a 9.5-magnitude monster in May 1960 that killed between 2,200 and 5,700 people and triggered a huge tsunami that reached as far as eastern New Zealand. (ANI)