As international aid began to arrive in Chile, emergency workers shifted the focus of recovery operations to the country’s coastline, where hundreds of people are feared to have been swept to sea and drowned after Saturday’s devastating earthquake, according to theage.com.
The Chilean government confirmed that 795 people had been killed in the quake, and a further 2 million made homeless. But many more, including tourists camping on the coast, are thought to have been dragged into the Pacific Ocean by the 40-foot-high tsunami that followed.
Survivor accounts and statements from police suggest the tsunami death toll could be in the hundreds.
For many, the waves came without warning and in the fishing village of Constitucion alone, 353 people were killed.
Saturday’s massive 8.8-magnitude earthquake struck during the last weekend of the summer holiday, when coastal bars, nightclubs and camp grounds were packed.
The transient nature of tourists has further complicated efforts to track survivors and compile lists of the missing.
”The quake was so strong we could not even sit up in the tent,” said James Derek Lyles, who was camping in Puertocillo. ”Everything was destroyed. My pickup truck, which was parked near the beach, was ruined – full of crabs and seaweed.”
In the town of Pelluhue, the surge of water dragged away a bus containing a group of retirees who had tried to flee after residents raised the alarm. ”We ran through the highest part of town, yelling, ‘Get out of your homes!”’ said Claudio Escalona, 43, who fled his home near the campground with his wife and young daughters.
”About 20 minutes later came three waves, two huge, about six meters (about 20 feet) each, and a third even bigger. That one went into everything. You could hear the screams of children, women, everyone,” he said. ”There were screams, and then tremendous silence.”