CONCEPCION, Chile (Reuters) - One of the world's most powerful earthquakes in a century battered Chile on Saturday, killing at least 214 people, knocking down buildingsand triggering a tsunami that threatened Pacific coastlines as far away as Hawaii and Japan.
Buildings caught fire, bridges collapsed and debris blocked streets across swathes of central Chile, butthe initial death toll was relatively low from a quake packing many times more power than the one that devastated Haiti last month.
An apartment block with up to 200 people inside collapsed inConcepcion, the closest major city to the epicenter, and rescue officials said they were unsure how many escaped.
Overturned cars lay scattered below a fallen overpass in the capital Santiago and telephoneand power lines went down across the narrow country, making it difficult to assess the full extent of the damage and loss of life.
The government said at least 214 people were killed in the8.8-magnitude quake, which struck at 3:34 a.m. (6:34 a.m. British time), sending people rushing from their beds and onto the streets in fear, hugging each other and crying.
"It came in waves and lasted solong. Three minutes is an eternity. We kept worrying that it was getting stronger, like a terrifying Hollywood movie," said Santiago housewife Dolores Cuevas.
Chilean officials said the number ofdeaths was unlikely to increase dramatically, and a U.S. Geological Survey researcher attributed the low toll to Chile's solid building standards.
But it was the fifth-largest earthquake since 1900 anddealt a blow to the economy and infrastructure of the world's No. 1 copper producer and one of Latin America's most developed and stable countries.
"This will be a major blow to the country'sinfrastructure; there has been major damage to roads, airports, which are now suspended, ports and also in housing," Chilean President-elect Sebastian Pinera said.
The quake halted operations at two oil...