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Quake-Ravaged Chile Jolted by Aftershocks

  • Michael Bowman

More than 300 people reported killed, 1.5 million homes damaged following Saturday's magnitude 8.8 earthquake

Scores of aftershocks have battered Chile after the most powerful earthquake in decades inflicted massive damage and killed more than 700 people. Tthe rest of the Pacific region appears to have been spared from tsunamis that were feared after the quake struck early Saturday.

Chilean rescue teams have worked frantically to reach people trapped in buildings that collapsed when the 8.8-magnitude quake caused the ground to convulse for more than a minute.

Jolted by a barrage of aftershocks, some as strong as 6.9 magnitude, many Chileans are staying out of their homes and sleeping outdoors.

One woman said she and her family do not want to be inside, and that they only go indoors to use the bathroom. She said it is safer outdoors.

More than a million homes and buildings are thought to have been damaged by the quake, which struck near Chile's second-largest city, Concepcion. The temblor affected vast swaths of territory and was felt in neighboring Argentina.

Chilean emergency official Jose Abumohor predicted the death toll will rise further as recovery teams continue their grim tasks.

He said the fatality figure is continually changing, and that victims have to be identified. He said most victims died inside their homes and did not have IDs on their person.

Already shaken by the earthquake, many Chilean seaside communities were later battered by tidal waves. In the coastal town of Constitucion, one man said his family lost everything.

He said a wave 10-meters high destroyed his house, his mother's house, and his aunt's house.

But the rest of the Pacific region appears to have been spared from devastating tsunamis. In Japan, coastal residents who evacuated in panic Saturday have returned to their homes.

One woman expressed eagerness to go home, saying that any waves are unlikely to be high and that she is relieved.

Meanwhile, dozens of nations and international aid groups have mobilized to provide aid to Chile, whose president, Michelle Bachelet, declared "a state of catastrophe".

Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama.

The prime minister said he has ordered reconstruction aid and other forms of support, which will be provided as soon as Chile requests assistance.

An overwhelmingly Catholic nation, Chile was on the mind of Pope Benedict the 16th Sunday.

The pontiff said his thoughts go to Chile and the population hit by the earthquake. He said he prays for the victims and all those affected by the calamity.

Chile experiences frequent seismic activity, but Saturday's quake was the strongest since 1960, when a 9.5 magnitude quake set off tsunamis that killed hundreds of people as far away as Japan and the Philippines.

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