Death toll rises in devastating Chilean quake

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chile earthquakeThe death toll rose to at least eight Thursday after a magnitude-8.3 earthquake rocked the northern coast of Chile, triggering tsunami advisories as far away as Hawaii and Southern California.

A million people were evacuated from coastal Chilean towns as the quake and violent aftershocks destroyed homes and swept walls of water through streets Wednesday night. Among the hardest hit towns was Illapel, a coastal city of 30,000 people less than 35 miles from the quake’s epicenter in the Pacific Ocean.

“I thought it was the end of the world and we were going to die,” Manuel Moya, 38, who was sleeping with his wife on the ground outside their destroyed Illapel home, told the Associated Press. “They said it was a magnitude 8 but it felt like a 10.”

“People were running to everywhere, but we did not know where to run,” Gloria Navarro, a resident of La Serena, told AFP. Coastal sections of the city of more than 200,000 people were evacuated.

Buildings swayed in the capital city of Santiago, about 200 miles from the epicenter.

Tsunami advisories remained in effect Thursday for parts of Hawaii and Southern California. No major, destructive tsunami was expected for the U.S., the National Weather Service said, but coastal flooding was a concern and strong currents could be hazardous to boaters and swimmers.

The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center issued a tsunami watch for Hawaii soon after the quake, but later downgraded it to an advisory. “Although weather conditions may appear good, strong currents and surf may impact beaches,” the Coast Guard warned.

Chilean authorities initially issued a tsunami alert for the country’s coast, but canceled it for all regions Thursday.

President Michelle Bachelet said she planned to travel to the worst affected areas, where flooding occurred, buildings were damaged and power supplies cut. In the coastal city of Coquimbo, 15-feet high waves were reported.

In a televised statement, Bachelet said: “Once again we’re having to deal with another harsh blow from nature.”

“It’s been awful. We ran out of the house with our grandchildren and now we are on a hill hoping it will be over soon,” Maria Angelica Leiva, from the coastal town of Navidad, told Reuters.

“It is all very dark, and we just hope the sea hasn’t reached our house.”

In 2010, at least 700 people died following a 8.8-magnitude earthquake and tsunami. Chilean authorities were criticized for failing to swiftly issue warnings before that tsunami.