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TALCA, Chile – One of the strongest earthquakes ever recorded struck Chile on Saturday, toppling homes, collapsing bridges and plunging trucks into the fractured earth. A tsunami set off by the magnitude-8.8 quake threatened every nation around the Pacific Ocean — roughly a quarter of the globe.
Chileans near the epicenter were tossed about as if shaken by a giant.
It was the strongest earthquake to hit Chile in 50 years. President-elect Sebastian Pinera said more than 120 people died, a number that was rising quickly.
The quake shook buildings in Argentina’s capital of Buenos Aires, and was felt as far away as Sao Paulo in Brazil — 1,800 miles (2,900 kilometers) to the east.
The jolt set off a tsunami that raced across the Pacific, setting off alarm sirens in Hawaii, Polynesia and Tonga. Tahitian officials banned all traffic on roads less than 1,600 feet (500 meters) from the sea and people in several low-lying island nations were urged to find higher ground.
Hawaii could face its largest waves since 1964 starting at 11:19 a.m. (4:19 p.m. EST, 2119 GMT), according to Charles McCreery, director of the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center. Officials evacuated people and boats near the water and closed shore-side Hilo International Airport.
Experts said tsunami waves were likely to hit Asian, Australian and New Zealand shores within 24 hours of the earthquake. The U.S. West Coast and Alaska, too, were threatened. In all, 53 nations and territories were subject to tsunami warnings.
Waves 6 feet (1.8 meter) above normal hit Talcahuano near Concepcion 23 minutes after the quake, and President Michelle Bachelet said a huge wave swept into a populated area in the Robinson Crusoe Islands, 410 miles (660 kilometers) off the Chilean coast.
Bachelet said she had no information on the number of people injured in the quake. She declared a “state of catastrophe” in central Chile but said the government has not asked for assistance from other countries.