Earthquake Rocks Chile; Fast-Moving Tsunami Feared in Pacific

President Obama said the “devastating” earthquake that rocked Chile early Saturday had unleashed a tsunami, rolling across the Pacific, that could soon reach American shores at Hawaii, Guam and American Samoa.

A tsunami warning has been issued in those places, the president said, “and people have been alerted to evacuate coastal areas.” Citizens on the West Coast should also be prepared for the possibility of “dangerous waves and currents throughout the day,” he said.

In a statement from the White House Rose Garden, Obama said “early indications are that hundreds of lives have been lost in Chile, and the damage is severe. On behalf of the American people Michelle and I send ouir deepest condolences to the Chilean people. The United States stands ready to assist in the rescue and recovery efforts.”

Obama said he had “reached out” to Chilean President Michelle Bachelet “to let her know that we will be there for her, should the Chilean people need assistance.” Earlier, Obama led a conference call with his cabinet and White House staff to get an update on the destruction in Chile and subsequent tsunami warning in the Pacific.

Chile’s TVN cable news channel reported that at least 120 people had perished, but communications were spotty near the center of the quake, the city of Concepcion in the south of the country.

“Once again, we’ve been reminded of the awful devastation that can come at a moment’s notice,” Obama said in Washington, “We cannot control nature, but we can and must be prepared for disaster when it strikes. In the hours ahead, we’ll continue to take every step possible to prepare our shores and protect our citizens. White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said, “We are closely monitoring the situation, … Our thoughts and prayers are with the people of Chile, and we stand ready to help in ths hour of need.”

The State Department said it was ready to help “as rapidly and effectively as we can.” The U.S. government activated a disaster response team and alerted two search and rescue teams, the Washington Post said.

Chile’s President Bachelet declared a catastrophe in central Chile after the magnitude-8.8 quake, the Associated Press reported. The news agency quoted Bachelet as saying a huge wave swept into a populated area in the Robinson Crusoe Islands, 410 miles off the Chilean coast in the Pacific Ocean. Property damage was widespread, and Bachelet called for calm.

In Washington, a Department of Homeland Security official said FEMA was monitoring the quake and staying in touch with emergency workers in Hawaii where a tsunami warning was issued, the New York Times reported. Sirens wailed alerting residents to check radio and television reports for guidance.

The AP said tsunami waves could crash on Asian, Australian and New Zealand shores within 24 hours of the quake.

Jenifer Rhoades, a spokeswoman for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), told CNN, “it is a serious situation. People in these areas need to move to higher ground and away from beaches.”An tsumani “advisory” — a less severe notice than a warning — was issued for the West Coast of the United States, meaning people should stay away from beaches, NOAA said.

h/t Politics Daily

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