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'The wave covered everything': Chile tsunami survivor

Picture of a boat left stranded in the middle of a hill after a tsunami in the Chilean city of Dichato, some 30 km from Concepcion, on March 1, 2010, three day after a huge 8.8-magnitude earthquake rocked the country early morning, killing at least 708 people. The South American nation has been hit by numerous aftershocks, some reaching over 6 points on the Richter scale, as well as heavy damages in coastal towns resulting from subsequent tsunamis. Photo courtesy AFP.
by Staff Writers
Penco, Chile (AFP) Feb 28, 2010
Telltale traces of sand, mud and seaweed clung Sunday to the sides of restaurants, homes and anything else not washed away when a giant wave spawned by Chile's 8.8-magnitude quake engulfed the seaside town of Penco.

The tsunami engulfed the normally placid Penco and neighboring villages, swallowing up homes here and washing away livelihoods.

"The wave came and covered everything. It was something like six meters high," Carlos Palma told AFP Sunday, as he walked along the coast, looking to salvage any of his belongings that had been washed away in the flood.

The picturesque town of some 50,000 people is located about 10 kilometers (six miles) from Concepcion, the epicenter of Saturday's earthquake which killed at least 700 people -- a toll that is expected to climb.

The 8.8-magnitude quake that struck off the coast of Chile shortly before dawn was one of the largest earthquakes on record, sending tsunami waves crashing into coastal areas of this South American nation of 16 million people, and roaring across the Pacific Ocean as far away as New Zealand and Japan.

Sizeable aftershocks could be felt every about 30 minutes, panicking survivors who feared that the temblors could generate more even more deadly tsunamis.

Sleepy coastal towns like this were among the least prepared for the quake and its aftermath -- but unfortunately also were among the hardest hit.

Chile's government acknowledged Sunday that it erred in not urging coastal inhabitants as soon as the quake struck to evacuate coastal areas.

"It was an mistake," said Defense Minister Francisco Vidal, after meeting Sunday with President Michelle Bachelet and other top officials in an emergency meeting.

Immediately after the quake struck at 3:43 am Saturday, Bachelet, tried to tamp down tsunami fears, and issued a call for calm.

Most of the more than 700 dead were in the very coastal regions where officials had urged inhabitants not to be worried.

Residents said a nearby town, Dichato, had practically been washed away and said huge waves "could come back at any time, with great force," said Francisco Jara, who lives in a section of town which is at a higher elevation and was not engulfed by the tsunami.

"Dichato is practically gone. The boats are on top of the houses," said one woman, who said that her son had recently returned from the site where the town once stood.

Many inhabitants of the town spent Saturday night out of doors, out of fears of being crushed by falling building and debris.

Cars snaked outside a gas station, where drivers hoped to be able to fill their tanks ahead of expected gasoline shortages.

North of Penco, the cities of Curico and Talco were also hard-hit, and were without power or potable water Sunday.

Elsewhere in Penco, looters forced their way into a shuttered supermarket, in search of food and drink.

"I have four babies," shouted one mother, removing her wool jacket to use as an improvised bag to carry packages of diapers.

She was one of several people exiting the shop with goods pilfered from the Unimarc supermarket, where looters tossed bottles of oil, diapers, canned food and other necessities out from the shops shattered glass window.

Others exited the store with full grocery carts of stolen goods as police watched nearby but took no action.

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Hawaii Spared As Japan, Russia, Philippines Evacuate Coastlines
Tokyo (AFP) Feb 28, 2010
Japan issued a major tsunami alert for its Pacific coastline Sunday after the massive earthquake in Chile, and ordered more than 10,000 people to evacuate vulnerable areas. The Japan Meteorological Agency warned that waves of up to three metres (10 feet) could hit the northern areas of Aomori, Iwate and Miyagi, even as fears of destructive waves eased across the rest of the Pacific. The ... read more

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