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People in Chile sort through rubble after earthquake Residents of Pellehue, Chile, sort through debris on February 28, 2010. The town suffered significant damage as a result of the massive earthquake that struck south-central Chile on February 27, 2010. (Photo: Victor Ruiz Caballero/Reuters/Corbis)

Major Earthquake Hits Chile

South American country scrambles to find survivors after one of the most powerful earthquakes in recorded history

By Laura Leigh Davidson | March 1 , 2010
Map: Jim McMahon
Map: Jim McMahon

The country of Chile is struggling to recover from one of the most powerful earthquakes in history. The quake struck the South American nation early Saturday morning. It registered 8.8 on the Richter scale. Experts say the earthquake in Chile is among the five most powerful earthquakes ever recorded.

The epicenter of the earthquake, or the point on the Earth's surface directly above where it happened, is about 70 miles north of the city of Concepción [con-sep-see-ON]. Concepción is one of the largest cities in Chile. The area has been rocked by dozens of aftershocks, or smaller earthquakes, since the big quake hit on Saturday morning.

More than 800 people have been killed and many more injured. On Sunday, Chilean President Michelle Bachelet updated reporters on the toll the earthquake has taken.

"It's an enormous catastrophe," she said.

Countless buildings and roadways have been destroyed or badly damaged. Rescuers continued to work around the clock to find survivors who may be trapped under the rubble of fallen buildings.Government officials estimate more than 2 million people have lost their homes as a result of the natural disaster.

Relief Efforts Under Way

Bachelet assured people that food and medical aid were on the way. Ten thousand members of the Chilean military have been dispatched to help in the relief and recovery efforts. Many of the country's major grocery stores have started giving away basic food and supplies to people in the affected areas.

President Barack Obama spoke to President Bachelet by telephone on Sunday. He assured her that the United States “stands ready to assist the Chilean government's rescue and recovery efforts."

U.S. Secretary of State Hilary Rodham Clinton was already scheduled to tour a number of South American nations this week. She will meet with President Bachelet and other Chilean government officials in the capital of Santiago on Tuesday.

Secretary Clinton will deliver badly needed communications equipment requested by Chilean officials. This equipment will help those working with rescue and recovery efforts to reach areas whose phone and Internet service were cut off by the quake.

Second Major Quake This Year

The earthquake in Chile comes less than two months after the 7.0 magnitude earthquake that Haiti suffered in January. Although the earthquake in Chile was more powerful than the one in Haiti, the damage is unlikely to be as severe.

Earthquakes are more common in Chile, and many buildings and homes there are constructed to withstand tremors better. Also, the area of Chile most affected by this earthquake is not as heavily populated as Port-au-Prince, where the epicenter of the Haitian quake was located. Furthermore, Chile is one of South America's richest, best-organized countries. Its government has more supplies and people available to effectively respond to national emergencies.

Effects of Earthquake Felt Across the Globe

The energy released by the quake caused shock waves to roll across the Pacific Ocean in the form of tsunamis [tsoo–NAH-mees], or massive waves that have the potential to do great damage in coastal areas. Some of these waves struck the Chilean coast, causing major damage to seaside towns. Coastal communities in Russia, Japan, and the United States were concerned, too, but there were no reports of severe damage from the waves that eventually reached the countries' shores.

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