Chile's earthquake death toll rises to 214   2010-02-28 08:12:26 FeedbackPrintRSS

A Chilean walks on the debris of a building damaged by earthquake in Sandiago, capital of Chile, Feb. 27, 2010. (Xinhua/Victor Rojas)

SANTIAGO, Feb. 27 (Xinhua) -- The Chilean National Emergency Office (Onemi) said on Saturday that the death toll from the 8.8-magnitude earthquake that hit Chile early in the morning has risen to 214.

According to Sergio Barrientos, science chief of the Seismology Institute of the University of Chile, the megaquake was "50 times bigger than the one of Haiti."

Chilean Interior Minister Edmundo Perez Yoma said that this earthquake was "a cataclysm of historical dimensions. Since 1960 we have never had an earthquake like this (..) however, we expect to normalize the country" in the coming 48 or 72 hours.

Onemi said that there are some 400,000 victims in Biobio, one of the most affected areas.

Meanwhile, the airport of Santiago has been closed due to structural problems in its main building, and is expected to be habilitated in 48 hours.

In many municipalities in the Metropolitan Region of Santiago, the electricity supply was interrupted.

Between the regions of Valparaiso and Araucania, in a range of some 800 km, water supply, sewage system and telephone service have been disrupted in many zones.

Meanwhile, the Education Ministry announced that the beginning of the new school term will be delayed from March 3 to March 8 in order to repair the damages the schools have suffered.

Public Works Minister Sergio Bitar said that the highways connecting Santiago with the north of the country are in good condition, but drivers should be cautious.

On the highways leading southward from Cucico, 201 km away from Santiago, there are collapsed bridges or damages, Bitar added.

The earthquake has also disrupted the subway system of Santiago and other public transportation services.

The Chilean Housing Ministry said that at least 1.5 million houses are affected across the country, adding that the authorities will make an exhaustive evaluation to determine the damages on Monday.

Treasury Minister Ernesto Velasco said that "Chile has the necessary resources. We have saved during previous years and now they are available."

After the earthquake, Chilean President Michelle Bachelet has sent three rescue teams to the affected areas, while declaring many parts of the country as catastrophe zones and calling on the people to remain calm.

Bachelet said a huge tsunami wave has hit the Juan Fernandez islands, an archipelago where Scottish sailor Alexander Selkirk was marooned in the 18th century, inspiring the novel Robinson Crusoe.

She also said the residents in the coastal areas of Chile's remote Easter Island, a popular tourist destination in the Pacific famous for its towering Moai stone statues, have been evacuated.

Bachelet and her ministers have visited the affected areas to evaluate the damages.

The earthquake was felt in Concepcion, Santiago, Rancagua, Talca, Temuco, Valdivia, Valparaiso, Montt Port, Vicuna, La Serena, Capiapo and Calama.

President-elect Sebastian Pinera said his government will work to get private and international aid to reconstruct the affected areas after taking office on March 11.

The impact of the earthquake has also reached sports. The leaders of the Chilean soccer team have decided to cancel the friendly matches that the national team was scheduled to play on Wednesday against foreign teams.

After the strong earthquake, at least 25 aftershocks ranging from 5 to 6.9 magnitudes have been registered.

The 8.8-magnitude tremor rocked Chile at 3:34 a.m. local time (0634 GMT) on Saturday, knocking down homes and hospitals, and triggering a tsunami that rolled menacingly across the Pacific.

To the moment, 22 people have been rescued alive.

The epicenter was only 115 km from Concepcion, Chile's second largest city with a population of 670,000.

Later in the day, at 12:48 p.m. local time (1548 GMT), an earthquake measuring 6.1 on the Richter scale shook the Argentine province of Salta, some 1,600 km northwest of Buenos Aires, leaving at least one dead and 2 injured.

Editor: Deng Shasha

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