Thousands of people in northern Chile sought temporary shelter Wednesday, afraid to return to their homes after a 6.8-magnitude earthquake killed eight people and injured about 100.
The quake on Tuesday night destroyed or damaged about 1,000 houses, most of them made of adobe. But even residents whose homes were spared were unwilling to return to them with aftershocks still rippling through the region.
Worst hit was Punitaqui, a town 250 miles north of Santiago, where Jaime MuInoz; his wife, Eliana; and their three boys, ages 2, 16 and 17, died when the walls of their adobe home collapsed.
A neighbor, Jaime Ayala, told Radio Cooperativa of Santiago that he reached that family’s home in the dark shortly after the quake. “But it was too late,” he said. “All I found was the bodies, including the lady holding the baby in her arms.”
Many other houses in Punitaqui, almost all of which are made of clay and straw, were so badly damaged they will have to be demolished.
The quake, which struck about 10 p.m., was felt along a 750-mile north-south stretch of Chile’s narrow territory, including this capital city of 5 million people. In addition to the family that was killed, one woman died in Ovalle, another died in Coquimbo and a man died in Punitaqui.
Reports said the quake also was felt in a large area in Argentina, across the Andes mountains from Chile, but no casualties or damage were reported.
The quake was centered near Illapel, 190 miles north of Santiago, and had its epicenter 20 miles underground, the Seismological Office of the University of Chile said.
On Wednesday, several aftershocks rocked the area, which is still recovering from three years of drought followed by heavy rains that caused severe flooding in July and August. President Eduardo Frei toured the region and said the government would widen the state of emergency declared for those disasters to allow additional aid.
Construction materials, blankets, food and medicine for the newly homeless were already on the way.
“We got a triple one here,” Frei said. “First was the drought, then the storms, and now the quake. Let’s hope that would be it.”
Figures on the number of people left homeless were not available due to poor communications. But schools were closed in several towns so classrooms could be used as shelters.
The quake also caused landslides that blocked roads, isolating some small villages in the northern Andes.
An emergency bridge that had replaced one swept away by storms in July collapsed, interrupting traffic on the Pan American Highway. Telephone and electric power were temporarily interrupted in some areas.