At 3:34 a.m. of Feb. 27 in Chile, an 8.8-magnitude earthquake hit the country, which according to the U.S. Geological Survey has caused tsunami along the coast near the epicenter.
Chilean President Michelle Bachelet has declared a “state of catastrophe.”
“The country has just experienced an enormous earthquake… we are in the process of finding out about the effects of the quake across the region, the state of the roads and hospitals, the damage to buildings and of course the number of those killed and injured,” Bachelet said to BBC.
As of this writing, power and communication lines in Chile are still down. Several hospitals with structural damage have been evacuated, and the international airport is closed, with all flights cancelled until further notice, news reports indicate.
European Union aid commissioner Kristalina Georgieva said she has mobilized the European Commission’s humanitarian experts to assess urgent needs in Chile. The EU has now pledged USD4 million in aid, Agence France-Presse reports.
Despite the quake’s intensity, Oxfam does not expect the impact of the disaster to be as massive as what happened in Haiti.
“Chile is a developed country with a very capable government and while it is unlikely that this disaster will be as severe as what we saw last month in Haiti, we want to be in place to help as soon as possible,” Jeremy Loveless, Oxfam’s deputy humanitarian director, told Agence France-Presse.
Oxfam is deploying a group of water engineers and logisticians from Colombia to Chile.
According to the World Bank, Chile has been the fastest-growing economy in Latin America over the last 15 years. Its average annual per capita growth rate is 4.1 percent during that period. But poverty persists in Chile, with 13.7 percent of Chileans living below the poverty line.
The bank has earmarked USD250 million to support development efforts in Chile from 2007 to 2010.
Other aid groups are now moving to provide help in the Latin American nation. Medecins Sans Frontieres, similar to Oxfam, is sending a team to evaluate the situation in Chile. It expects its team comprising a doctor, a logistician and a nurse to arrive from Argentina Feb. 27. Save the Children and Operation USA are now seeking donations for their relief efforts in Chile.