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Chileans survey a collapsed building in Concepción, Chile, February 27 after an 8.8-magnitude earthquake.

Chileans survey a collapsed building in Concepción, Chile, February 27 after an 8.8-magnitude earthquake.

27 February 2010

U.S. Stands with Chile in Wake of Devastating Quake, February 27, 2010

(President Obama extends condolences, offers aid following natural disaster)

Washington — The United States will “stand with our Chilean friends,” President Obama said, assuring Chile that the United States is closely watching developments in the wake of an extremely strong earthquake and is prepared to help in whatever way it can.

The president, in a televised statement from the White House, said he had spoken with Chile’s president, Michelle Bachelet, to express the United States’ deepest condolences for Chile’s losses and offer U.S. help and support.

“Chile is a close friend and partner of the United States, and I’ve reached out to President Bachelet to let her know that we will be there for her should the Chilean people need assistance, and our hearts go out to the families who may have lost loved ones,” Obama said.

The 8.8-magnitude earthquake, among the strongest recorded by scientists, struck in the early morning hours of February 27, according to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS). Early reports number quake-related deaths in the hundreds, but that figure is likely to climb given the extent of destruction already evident.

The airport in Santiago has been damaged and likely will remain closed for at least 24 hours, according to media reports. Reports from Concepción, one of the cities closest to the quake’s epicenter, were extremely limited even 12 hours after the seismic event. A large wave washed over the island of Juan Fernández, approximately 640 kilometers off the Chilean coast, shortly after the earthquake. Some bridges, highway overpasses and buildings have collapsed, despite Chile’s stringent building codes that were established to address the high risk of earthquakes.

As it did with Haiti, the United States government and U.S.-based nongovernmental organizations already are marshalling resources to assist Chile as soon as the Chilean government assesses the situation and makes its needs known.

“We are closely monitoring the situation, including the potential for a tsunami. Our thoughts and prayers are with the people of Chile, and we stand ready to help in this hour of need,” said White House press secretary Robert Gibbs February 27.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, in a separate statement issued February 27, echoed the president’s sentiments and said the United States “is coordinating closely with senior Chilean officials on the content and timing” of U.S. assistance.

Noting she will depart February 28 on a previously scheduled trip to the region, Clinton said she will be in close contact with President Bachelet and other regional leaders on how best to help. “Our hemisphere comes together in times of crisis, and we will stand side by side with the people of Chile in this emergency,” she said.

CHILE ONE OF EARTH’S MOST SEISMICALLY ACTIVE AREAS

Coastal Chile has a history of very large earthquakes, according to the USGS, with 13 events of 7.0-magnitude or greater since 1973. The February 27 earthquake originated about 230 kilometers north of the epicenter of a May 1960 9.5-magnitude earthquake — the strongest earthquake ever recorded – that generated a tsunami felt around nearly the entire Pacific Rim. The 1960 earthquake and tsunami took 1,600 lives in Chile and another 200 in Japan, Hawaii and the Philippines.

The February 27 earthquake was centered approximately 870 kilometers south of an 8.5-magnitude earthquake in November 1922 that killed hundreds in Chile and caused severe property damage. That quake also generated a tsunami, which caused property damage as far away as Hawaii.

As aftershocks continue to be felt in Chile and neighboring nations, other nations are preparing for a possible tsunami as the force released by the offshore quake sends waves of energy across the Pacific Ocean. The United States, Japan, Russia, China, Australia, New Zealand, Polynesia and Indonesia all could feel the effects of the Chilean earthquake. Many factors, including distance and the topography of the ocean floor, affect the speed and power of a tsunami, which travels at between 640 and 800 kilometers per hour.

In the U.S. state of Hawaii, tsunami warning sirens sounded at 6 a.m. local time and residents were urged to evacuate low-lying areas even though it would be several hours before a tsunami generated by the Chilean quake could strike. U.S. Navy vessels docked in Hawaii are putting to sea to avoid damage.

Unlike the Indian Ocean in December 2004, when a deadly tsunami struck with virtually no warning, the Pacific Ocean has an extensive tsunami warning network.

In the aftermath of the 1960 Chilean earthquake, the nations of the Pacific decided to coordinate efforts to prevent such loss of life from ever occurring again in the Pacific Basin due to destructive ocean-crossing tsunamis. Under the auspices of the United Nations, the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission established the Intergovernmental Coordination Group for the Pacific Tsunami Warning System in 1968. Renamed the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center, it is headquartered in Hawaii.

“Once again, we’ve been reminded of the awful devastation that can come at a moment’s notice. We can’t control nature, but we can and must be prepared for disaster when it strikes,” Obama said. “In the hours ahead, we’ll continue to take every step possible to prepare our shores and protect our citizens. And we will stand with the people of Chile as they recover from this terrible tragedy.”

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