International disaster relief charity ShelterBox is geared up to respond to a powerful earthquake in Chile, South America, where five people are already known to have died and an estimated one million people have been evacuated
An 8.3 magnitude earthquake struck central Chile late last evening, more powerful than the 7.8 quake that hit Nepal in May. It has caused the evacuation of an estimated one million people.
Chilean officials say it is the sixth most powerful quake to hit the country, and seismologists have reported dozens of aftershocks. A tsunami alert was originally issued for the entire Chilean coast but has been partly lifted since, although Pacific coast communities as far away as New Zealand, California and Hawaii remain vigilant.
The US Geological Survey say the epicentre of the tremor was off the coast of Chile’s Coquimbo region, 29 miles west of the city of Illapel.
ShelterBox last responded in Chile earlier this year when the Calbuco volcano erupted three times in eight days, and the usually arid area of Atacama suffered intense rainfall causing flash flooding and landslides. Shelter was provided for 1,500 families whose homes were destroyed or damaged.
Five years ago ShelterBox was also called to an even more powerful earthquake, 8.8 magnitude, which struck only 200 miles from the Chilean capital Santiago. That also triggered a tsunami alert. ShelterBox response teams were drawn from the UK and US on that occasion, when 500 people died.
After last evening’s quake people living in coastal areas sought shelter on high ground, while those in Chilean cities sought safety in the streets. The tremors and aftershocks caused buildings to sway in cities as far away as the Argentine capital Buenos Aires. It happened as thousands of Chileans were travelling to the coast ahead of a week of celebrations for the country’s independence day.
Phil Duloy, Operations Coordinator at ShelterBox HQ in Helston, says, ‘This is a major earthquake. We make our plans based on the best available information, and damage assessments are not coming in just yet. We have a team and aid on standby, and both could be deployed to the affected areas in Chile as early as tomorrow.’