Massive Earthquake Shakes Chile
News story originally written on February 27, 2010

Early Saturday morning, February 27, 2010, a very strong earthquake shook Chile and western South America. The earthquake, a magnitude 8.8, struck about 100 km (60 mi) off the coast of Maule, Chile (see map at left) about 35 km (21.7 mi) underground.

The magnitude of this earthquake was strong enough to break buildings and bridges into rubble. The earthquake epicenter was not far from the large cities of Santiago and Conception, Chile. About 1.5 million people have lost their homes in coastal Chile because of this earthquake, according to the director of Chilean emergency management office.

The earthquake happened as Earth's tectonic plates moved along a plate boundary. In this area, two plates are moving towards each other over time. Each year, they move about 8 cm (3.2 in) closer. Where does the extra rock go? One plate is sliding below the other, a process called subduction.

This is not the first earthquake to rock coastal Chile. Because it is so close to the boundary between two tectonic plates, the area has a long history of earthquakes. Thirteen large earthquakes, magnitude 7.0 or higher, have shaken the area since 1973. Because this area is prone to earthquakes, buildings are designed to be very sturdy. So, even though this earthquake was stronger than the one that struck Haiti a month ago, the total destruction is likely to be much less.

The earthquake created tsunami waves in the Pacific Ocean. Along the coast of Chile the wave was 2.35 meters (7.7 ft) high and strong enough to toss boats into houses. The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center issued a warning that tsunami waves might hit the coasts of countries around the Pacific Ocean, even those thousands of miles away in the western Pacific. The Center monitors sea level in the Pacific to track the location of tsunami waves as they move across he ocean. The tsunami wave was about 1.2 meters (4 ft) high when it got to Japan and about 2 meters (6.5 ft) high on Tonga and New Zealand.

Last modified March 1, 2010 by Lisa Gardiner.

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