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Earthquake Hits Chile; Tsunami Warnings for the Pacific Region

Aired February 27, 2010 - 08:00   ET


BETTY NGUYEN, CNN ANCHOR: Well, good morning, everybody. We do have some breaking news. But first, we do want to welcome our viewers across the U.S. and around the world.

Let's get right to that breaking news this morning, an 8.8 magnitude quake out of Chile.

ROB MARCIANO, CNN ANCHOR: An 8.8 early this morning. And as a result, right now, 78 people are dead. And that number of fatalities expected to rise. The most powerful quake to hit this area in nearly 50 years.

NGUYEN: Want to get you some of the first pictures coming to us near the epicenter, which we're being told at this point is Concepcion, which is about 212 miles southwest of Santiago. Damage spread across the region. You're seeing buildings right there, parts of them just crumbled. We've seen a lot of debris in the streets. Vehicles damaged, power lines down. There definitely is a lot of damage. This is just some of the first pictures coming in.

Now, to give you an idea of how densely populated Concepcion is, it is Chile's second largest city. It has a population of 670,000 people. Again, this quake struck overnight around 3:30 a.m. in the morning. So thousands of people might have been asleep in their beds when it struck and really had no warning whatsoever. Surrounding areas also we're expecting to hear some damage reports out of those points. Major north south Chilean bridge, a major one there we're told is impassable at this hour.

MARCIANO: The president of CNN Chile (ph) says the quake lasted about 45 seconds, certainly, probably felt a lot longer than that. Now the repercussions being felt not only in Chile as far as the land goes and the destruction there on land but the tsunami warnings have been posted across the entire -- almost the entire Pacific basin. We'll continue to update that, as part of the story as well.

NGUYEN: Let's get you some sound now. Let's let you hear from Chile's President Michelle Bachelet as she has declare at state of catastrophe which is essentially like a state of emergency here in the United States.

Let's take a listen.


MICHELLE BACHELET, PRESIDENT OF CHILE (through translator): We are gathering all the information. It's been a massive earthquake. There have been some -- all the institutions are working. They're organizing. We have at 6:00 in the morning, there will be a meeting of the (INAUDIBLE) committee with everybody to share all of their information.

We are taking all the necessary precautions. We are working and any information that we have we will give it out immediately. Areas in the country, where obviously communications are not too normalized, there's three teams that are leaving Santiago and going to the seventh, eighth and ninth region with special equipment.

So where communications have been effected, they can restore them. We're going to evaluate travel plans at this point in time. Right now we're just focused on the impact this earthquake has had on our population and the infrastructure. We're taking all the necessary measures at this time and we will let you -- we'll keep bringing you information as we have it.


MARCIANO: We're joined now by CNN Latin American affairs editor Rafael Romo. He's the editor. You've been dialed in there now for several hours, Rafael. What can you tell us about this epic quake that's rocked Chile?

RAFAEL ROMO, CNN SR. LATIN AMERICAN AFFAIRS EDITOR: Rob, the death toll now stands at 78 people. But again, this is a very preliminary number. It's just -- authorities haven't been able to really assess the damage and the number of people who have been killed or injured by this earthquake so we give this number with the caution that it's just very preliminary. And we're hearing reports of people who are trapped inside of buildings.

We heard of a case in the city of Concepcion, which is the city closest to the epicenter of this earthquake. A building that was previously 15 stories high, now it looks like a building only three stories high. And the reports from local media in Chile say that people are still trapped there. The other problem right now in Chile is that the emergency services have been overwhelmed.

Firefighters are getting many calls from different buildings. We have fires that have been burning out of control for the last six hours or so. Not enough firefighters to go to the buildings and try to control this situation. Also many calls, as you can imagine, of people who need medical attention. Not enough emergency personnel to go there.

We have also received a report about route number five. This is one of the main thoroughfares in Chile that is very badly damaged in the area of the earthquake. It is not going to be usable for the near future. Also, the airport in the capital of Santiago is going to remain closed for the next 24 hours. The reports we have is that the terminal has been badly damaged.

But interestingly enough, the runway and the systems are operational but you cannot have one thing without the other. So authorities have decided to just, for the moment right now, to just keep it closed for the next 24 hours.

When this happened at 3:34 in the morning local time, there were flights going into Santiago, the capital of Chile. Those flights were diverted. Many flights were just returned to the points of origin. So still very much a very difficult situation in Chile. And as you mentioned before, President Michelle Bachelet has declared a state of emergency, what would be here essentially a state of emergency.

Now back to you, Rob and Betty.

MARCIANO: Rafael Romo giving us a little perspective on an area of the world no stranger to these type of quakes, although this one certainly one for the history books.

NGUYEN: No doubt. When we look at the top 10 of worst recorded earthquakes according to the U.S. geological folks there, they're saying that this one, if it holds true that it indeed is an 8.8, which is what we are learning at this point, 8.89, it will be number seven in the list. But Chile is no stranger to that list because they rank four times in the top 10 being the worst one being in 1960. That was a 9.5 magnitude quake. That is the worst one in recorded history.

Let's get some more perspective now on the situation on the ground and just how massive it is when it comes to possible damage. Chad Myers up early for us this morning. He joins us now. Chad, this is quite an earthquake.

CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: It is. And let's just go back to Haiti because that's the one that is closest to our mind, which was a 7.0. And I just want people to understand what the numbers mean. When you go from 7.0 to 8.0, that is literally 32 times stronger of an earthquake, not just one time stronger. That's 32 times stronger.

So let's now go to 9.0. That would be another 32. So that's not 64, that's 32 times 32. That would be 1,000 times stronger than the Haitian earthquake if we go to 9.0. But we're not 9.0, we're 8.8, but close enough. So somewhere between 800 and 900 times the shaking power of what was the Haitian earthquake happened overnight here in Chile.

So as we zoom in here. here's the U.S. There have been a couple of quakes across parts of southern California but nothing like this large circle that we're going to see here. Chile, the very long country right here on the west coast. There's a subduction (ph) zone where two plates hit each other.

That's why there's this big black line or dark line in the Google earth. That's the subduction zone. That's he trench. There's the earthquake right here, the epicenter literally just offshore. So as the earth shook this morning, or overnight, the people here right along the shore had no time. When it shook, they may have had 30 seconds to a minute to get out of the way.

The good news is as you look here, this is fairly unpopulated part of the country. I mean, that's great news. The part that had 30 seconds to a minute didn't have many people. But then as you zoom away and get into the more populated areas, there are people here up and down, especially here as you get up towards Concepcion and you get down a little bit farther down to the south.

We'll just zoom it back out for you. It is now going to be part of a national or a countrywide story where, yes, the country shook and yes, the mountainsides probably shook as well. But -- and that's the shaking damage that you're going to see.

Then we're going to have to talk about the water damage. The water damage because the earth moved on the surface of the earth. It moved under the water. When that earth moves under the water, it displaces water. And that displacement of water can go a couple different directions. It just depends on how the earth slid. This is probably just a typical subduction slide.

How a subduction slide would happen is that you have one plate coming in here, another plate down below. And as this plate slides together, one's going down underneath the other, the exact opposite of how I drew it but here but there we go. It would be like this and it would be like this.

This part right here would start to bend over the years, literally years. This doesn't just happen overnight. This happens over years. So this part of the earth would begin to bend, begin to bend, begin to bend and then all of a sudden, pop, back up. And this rebound pushes the water up into the air a couple miles down, but it pushes the water up.

And as it pushes the water up, the water spreads out like you throwing a big boulder into a lake. And as the water spreads out, the water spreads out in big circles. It spreads out literally -- there would be, there would be, there would be the line. As wave comes up, you would not know where you are here until the wave hits you.

The good news is we have computers that do this timing, how long it takes for this wave to come from Chile, from the epicenter, from right where the earthquake was and how far it will go. And we're still watching. There are dart (ph) buoys, it's just a name because the government, they love acronyms don't they.

But they put a sensor on the bottom of the ocean with a line all the way up to the buoy on top of the water and that buoy can measure how deep that water is by the pressures that's down here. It measures the pressure of the water above it. If the water gets a little bit higher, it knows that extra pressure, it measures that pressure and that pressure becomes what it calls the wave.

Literally a one foot wave in the middle of the ocean as it crashes on shore, right at shore because you know how waves get bigger and bigger as they come onshore. Even in Atlantic City, the wave is tiny way out there and then all of a sudden it becomes a real wave. They know how big these waves will be.

As the roller, so to speak, runs over one of those dart buoys, we will know exactly how big these waves can be in Hawaii, in Japan, in Australia, in New Zealand, all the way across the Pacific. This certainly will be a complete Pacific wide event. MARCIANO: Chad, you make a good point. It's probably the most frightening, Betty kind of used that word earlier. When this thing rolls around upon the ocean, it moves relatively little. If you were a fishing boat or a freighter out there you wouldn't notice it.

And then, once it gets to a land mass and that ocean bottom gets more shallow, it literally sneaks up on you like a big monster. So these dart buoys that you're speaking of, just huge addition to the Pacific wide warning program. It's coming to bear today for sure.

MYERS: A lot of money was spent after the big tsunami back in Bonde Ache (ph) and that tsunami, a lot of money was spent putting these dart buoys in the way. They wanted to put them in the way of what the potential tsumanis could be.

And so let's say here. Here's South America here. Thank you, Dave, for throwing this up for me where the earthquake would have been somewhere down here. This is just kind of a reference for speed. This would be one hour, two hours, three, four, five, six, seven. So literally all the way to get over to Honolulu could be a 12-hour time period as the wave rolls.

And this is when the water goes out, somewhere, no matter where you are, Galapagos Islands, I don't care where you are on here, if the water begins to go out and you can see land that you've never seen before, you can now see the crust of all the crustaceans that are out there and you can see the barrier islands that never were out, you need to get out of the way because that water is going to come back rushing at you for sure.

NGUYEN: And we have to remember that this problem is twofold because, yes, you have the tsunami warnings that are out there. But they are still experiencing aftershocks, Chad.


NGUYEN: We're explaining that there was one reported just a couple minutes ago that was a 6.1 magnitude aftershock. The largest one so far has been a 6.9. In all essence that is a large quake in and of itself, right?

MYERS: Absolutely is. Now, you can say that if you were standing in the middle of a farm field in an 8.8 earthquake, you would be alive right now. Earthquakes don't kill people, technically. Buildings kill people. Things that we put on this earth kill people because they fall down on to people.

So if you're out there all by yourself and you can get to a safe area, even after these aftershocks where you're not in the way of a building or any glass falling out of a building, you are in a safe position. It's the problem where this -- what time this happened. It was right in the middle when everybody was inside some type of a building. They were going to sleep. And then these buildings decided to collapse.

Clearly you can see that 15-story building literally had no chance. The taller you are, the more shaking it's going to be. We'll get into, next hour, we'll get into p-waves. We'll get into s-waves. We'll get into love waves and we'll get into terali (ph) waves and how they affect -- one is just like a train car or a rear-end collision and it just goes very fast.

And you know this wreck is coming. You can feel that. It will be the first wave that you feel. But it will only be one jolt. Then there will be some s-waves that come through the crust itself and it will be a little bit more rolling. Then there will be waves that have side to side, up and down all at the same time. When the buildings shake like that, those buildings don't have a chance.

NGUYEN: All right. Unfortunately, more to come because we are learning that these aftershocks can last for days, possibly even weeks. I know people watching right now, Chad and Rob are very worried about loved ones that may have been caught up in this. We want to let you know though that there is a number that is available for you if you are looking for your loved one and you want some information.

Let me give it to you right now. We'll try to put it up on the screen as well. But grab a pen and paper. That number is 1-888-407- 4747. Let me say it again. 1-888-407-4747. That's the number to call if you do have some loved ones in Chile and you're wondering about their whereabouts, if they did survive this. That is the number to call.

MARCIANO: Of course, in situations like this in the recent past, the Internet has certainly been a great tool to getting in touch with loved ones or at least finding out whether they are safe or not. CNN's Josh Levs has been following that among other streams of the latest information coming in on the earthquake via the Internet. He joins us live.

Hi Josh.

JOSH LEVS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey, guys. You're right, the Internet has been playing a major role already in the hours ever since this happened. Betty just gave you a phone number for Americans who are concerned. I know there are people watching us all over the world. One thing we're also doing at CNN is finding out how those of you in various countries around the world can access information as well about your loved ones.

One thing that's been happening today is a lot of people are getting online, concerned about their loved ones. Let me show you a couple of things right here. This is a tweet that I got. I keep trying to call my parents on their cell phones but I think phones there are not working. That's from Felipe.

And I'll just tell you, there's a website here that we're taking a look at called that's carrying news from Chile, it's (INAUDIBLE) TV Chile. We've been following them. And a lot of families worried about their relatives are following that.

In fact joining me on a phone right now is a woman, Karina Ortiz, Corinna are you there? KARINA ORTIZ, SEARCHING FOR LOVED ONE: Yes. I'm right here.

LEVS: I understand you have family inside Concepcion and you have not been able to reach them. Talk to me about that.

ORTIZ: Absolutely not. All the lines are down. In fact, we have family in (INAUDIBLE) which is connected to Concepcion on a bridge. And right now they show the bridge and it's completely collapsed. There's no way they can get through to. There's no way.

LEVS: So you have been trying to reach out to them in every possible way. You're using twitter. You're using online. You're trying to reach cell phones. I know you did reach one relative who also lives in Chile but not from what we're hearing in the most stricken area right.

ORTIZ: No. He is actually one of my grandparents. He is in (INAUDIBLE). We were able to reach him about an hour or two after the earthquake hit. He was telling us that there was absolutely no power. Getting to him was actually a stroke of luck. He was trying to contact an uncle of mine that is part of the police there and yet again, there was no way we could contact. The radios are down. Everything is down.

LEVS: So your family is at home right now. You just like so many people around the world right now are really concerned about your relatives. I'm going to tell you, a lot of it in a lot of cases could easily be just communication. A lot of communication devices are down.

We certainly know that's a lot of what's at stake here, what people are concerned about. But what are you as a family doing right now? Is your family together in the living room? Are you just making every call you can think of? What are you all doing?

ORTIZ: We right now are together as a family. We're connected through our cell phones. If there's any chance that one of us has a direct line to somebody, we contact each other. We're on Skype. We're on Twitter. We're on Facebook constantly checking it, constantly calling on Skype, trying to see if there's any way. That's the route we're going.

And, plus, I have friends over Facebook that are also from Chile from different areas who probably have family members there's. So we've just been trying to see if anyone has any contact at all with any person there.

LEVS: And Karina, as you talk to me, we are showing some of the first pictures from Concepcion. It's daylight out there now. We have been seeing some video for the first time of that area which what we've been hearing, that's one of the most stricken regions from this massive quake.

Obviously all the successive quakes that follow as well are hitting in that same general area and could cause further damage. We know you're using every web tool there is. Are you putting your family's pictures out there as well? Are you posting? Are you hearing from other families out there that have similar worries? ORTIZ: Yes, we are. On Twitter I put all of my family's names up. On Facebook I have all of their pictures up. Everyone is doing the same. We're all re-Twittering to do same exact thing, trying to get as much information out as possible, hoping that if there is one contact in (INAUDIBLE), they can find the rest for us.

LEVS: Wow, OK. I know you've reached out to your relatives. I know you're doing everything you possibly can. There are people inside Concepcion who just don't have access to phones or don't have access to the Internet who have lost power who are certainly going to be doing all they can to try to get information out there.

Karina Ortiz, as you hear anything, you keep us up to date OK.

ORTIZ: Thank you very much.

LEVS: Great. Now before we go, I want to show you all a couple of things that we are following online for you. I have about 35 screens open behind me because the Internet is playing such a huge role. Scottie, could you zoom way in here? I want to show everyone first of all, let's just do a reset for you.

A lot of Americans just joining us right now, waking up on this weekend morning. You got Chile right along here and I want to remind everyone where it fits into the world. You zoom up here to the west. You got Hawaii over here. The U.S. is up here. Some concerns about the U.S. west coast.

I also just got a tweet not long ago from a guy who's in Brisbane, Australia saying that he got a tsunami warning. I checked in with Rob about that. He said, yep, it makes all the sense in the world. They are concerned about that. Let's get back to Chile right here.

And finally, I want you all to see something that we've been seeing from the U.S.G.S. Scottie, can you get way in on those blue squares? Just keep zooming in. Every single blue square you see is an earthquake that struck that region. If you're just joining us, it struck that region while you were sleeping. Just pound after pound after pound with all this excessive earthquakes. They're considered the aftershocks. After the first huge one, which was so far 8.8. That's the initial reading on it.

One thing we have for you at is this. We talk you through the most powerful earthquakes ever. And one reason I want to show you this. I want to remind everyone that the most powerful earthquakes which I'm showing you right now throughout history, number one was actually in Chile about 50 years ago. It's a different thing from the deadliest earthquakes.

We're going to emphasize that throughout the day. Deadliest earthquakes, as Chad was saying now long ago, has to do with how close to population centers, the strength of the buildings and numerous other factors. The biggest does not mean the deadliest obviously in the immediacy of what we're seeing today. The concern are how will this ultimately play out.

We are also seeing some of the first tweet pics that come in. This happened in the dark. A lot of the pictures I'm going to have for you this morning are ones that were shot in the dark. But there's a little bit of rubble along here. This is one of the many pictures that's being sent around on twitter. People watching us all over the world right now, if you are watching us and you have access to any photos, videos, stories, that's my Twitter right there, joshlevs@cnn. I'm peeled to the screen all day long.

Also we are following anything we get at, your photos, your videos, your stories, only the ones taken safely. We make a lot of calls before we put them on the air. If you're in a position to take photos, videos, stories, send them to me or to and Rob and Betty. We get all these interactives running. We'll be bringing you more later this hour.

MARCIANO: What a great resource, Josh Levs, dipping into the Internet as you should, too while watching CNN, of course. We will be giving you the latest. The airport now, we've got some news on that.

NGUYEN: We understand that the airport in Santiago, the capital there, will be closed for the next 24 hours. So a lot of family members worried about their loved ones. That airport will be closed for the next 24 hours. A terminal there has been severely damaged. We have much more on this story coming right up. Stay right here with CNN.


NGUYEN: Breaking news to tell you about this morning. We have been following it for the past 2 1/2 hours, in fact, overnight as well. This happened around 3:30 local time in Chile. The breaking news is that an 8.8 earthquake has struck there. There are so far 78 people reported dead. And we are learning that the epicenter is near Concepcion.

And what we learned from local affiliates there, Chile TVN is that a 15-story building near that area has collapsed and witnesses nearby report hearing screams from people trapped underneath the rubble. So obviously a lot of damage has occurred. Crews are trying to get to those injured or trapped. And obviously we are working very frantically to bring you the information as well.

CNN does have a bureau in Chile and we are bringing reports to you from there. So definitely stay with CNN for the latest on all of this. But we want to give you some perspective on exactly what an 8.8 earthquake, what kind of damage that can do and how massive of a quake that truly is.

Rob Marciano joins me now and I understand you have a guest as well who can really help break it down.

MARCIANO: One of the reasons that the CNN weather team knows earthquakes so well is because of the gentleman sitting next to me. He's come in a number of times to give us the 411 on this. Professor Kurt Frankel from Georgia Tech. And thank you for coming in and sharing some of your knowledge with our viewers. Tell our viewers what this earthquake is like versus the Haiti earthquake and then maybe versus the Sumatra earthquake.

KURT FRANKEL, ASST. PROF. GEORGIA TECH: OK, so the Haiti earthquake occurred on what we call strike slip fault (ph) where the plates are simply sliding past one another. This earthquake occurred on what we call a subduction zone and that is where the oceanic plate, the (INAUDIBLE) plate, which is denser than the South America plate, is subducting beneath the continent.

That's similar situation to the situation we had in Sumatra in 2004. And those plate boundaries tend to produce the biggest earthquakes because there's the most crust, the area of the crust is largest dipping down beneath the earth. So there's the largest area that can rupture during these earthquakes and that's why you get these large magnitude 8 and 9 earthquakes in subduction zone settings like Sumatra or South America.

MARCIANO: I don't want to get into the nuts and bolt too much right now because I want to speak to you maybe a little bit later in the program when we get your visuals, get some fantastic visuals that will really hit home for you viewers. The larger picture of this, Haiti just happened. There seem to be a lot of earthquakes. Is there anything crazy that's going on?

FRANKEL: I don't think there's anything crazy. It's just coincidence and these earthquakes happen that sort of ways that we can't really predict and very, you know, oftentimes irregular patterns. So, yeah, I don't think this has any relationship to Haiti or to the other earthquake in Japan yesterday necessarily.

NGUYEN: But it does have a relationship to where they are located because I've done some reading about this thing called the ring of fire. That's where 90 percent of the earthquakes occur. This is located in that ring of fire, correct?

FRANKEL: So the ring of fire is just the area around the Pacific rim. So the ring of fire really refers to the volcanic activity there but it's the same process. You have this plate that's subducting. As it subducts, it melts a little bit and that magna comes to the surface and causes the volcanoes that make up sort of the backbone of the Andes. At the same time as those plates are subducting, they're not continuously subducting. They're stuck and then they slip a little bit and you get a bigger quake like we had.

MARCIANO: Definitely big. I know this is interesting to you and the rest of your scientists for sure, the repercussions, what happens in a populated area are certainly devastating. But stay there. I want to get your visuals going and maybe we'll get you up at the magic wall and we'll do some more talking about earthquakes and the tsunami that's actually happening.

Thank you Kurt, professor at Georgia Tech.

NGUYEN: Thank you so much for that insight. Also want to give you some more information too. For Americans watching, we do appreciate everyone watching not only here in the U.S. but around the world right now, but specifically for Americans watching. There is a phone number that you can call that the State Department has set up if you are looking for lost loved ones. That number is 1-888-407-4747. One more time. We'll try to get that up on the screen, in fact it is right now, 1-888-407-4747.

Now, there are many who want to know about their loved ones and perhaps want to travel down to this area. We want to let you know that the Santiago airport has been closed. It will be closed for the next 24 hours. There has been a terminal there that sustained some heavy damage.

And one of the persons trying to get down there obviously includes those that are on our crews and specifically CNN's Soledad O'Brien, who is in Miami. She's been waiting for the past few hours trying to get on a flight to Chile.

And I understand, Soledad, you're on the phone with us right now or at least we spoke with her just a little bit earlier. We have some sound I'm being told. She talked about how she met some flight attendants who actually just got off of a plane that had left the country shortly after the earthquake struck.

Take a listen.


NGUYEN: On the phone to CNN's Soledad O'Brien. She's, in fact, in Miami about to board a plane for Chile. And Soledad, I understand that you spoke with some flight attendants who just got off of a flight from Chile. What did they see? What did they experience?

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT (via telephone): It was interesting. They sort of passed. They were heading out and the last flight to get out of Santiago, the last flight to land from Santiago.

We spoke to one of the female flight attendants. She was in a group of about six or seven others. She said I have four kids that I left with a sitter so I could get on this flight for American Airlines. And she was aware that the kids had gotten out in the initial earthquake.

She was on the phone with her 10-year-old daughter who had gotten separated from her siblings and the sitter, was very, very upset. The phone went dead. There was another aftershock. She has -- at the time we talked to her she wasn't able to get that connection back.

And she said that her child was very nervous. She, herself, was very panicked because of the loss of connection and also knowing that her kid was out on the street.

So good news out of the building; bad news, 10 years old and completely separated from her sitter and her siblings. The entire crew that we spoke to coming in to the hotel where we were leaving said that they had family members in either Santiago or in Concepcion and they said that they were not able to get through for the most part.

Those who had gotten through said that the family members told them that they were scared. Everything was falling off of the walls. The furniture had fallen over. That there was some damage that they had seen.

Now, all of them also said -- remember that both Santiago and Concepcion are two cities that are -- where the people are not only trained in how to deal with an earthquake, but also it was emphasized to us many times that both of those cities are built to withstand earthquakes.

So that they really, really wanted to emphasize that to us. But of course they're also very nervous about their family members, those who hadn't had a chance to get through.

NGUYEN: Yes, built to withstand earthquakes but we're also hearing tsunami as well and that's a whole other set of problems that you're probably going to see once you touchdown there in either Concepcion or perhaps surrounding areas.

O'BRIEN: Yes. There's no question about it. I mean -- and that's to a large degree, I think, also psychologically very nerve- racking for people because there's a big sense of well, what, when, how big. We've just gotten through a major earthquake and now what's coming? It's just absolutely terrifying.

And certainly for the flight attendants they are very, very nervous about sort of the unknown that's facing them even though they had a chance to check in and say, ok, you're fine right now.

So, yes, we're going to head in and hopefully get a chance to see some of this up close and be able to tell you about what we're seeing face to face, in person.

NGUYEN: Well, before I let you go, Soledad, I want to ask you. How are the flights? I mean, is the airport open? Are flights getting into Santiago?

O'BRIEN: It's a mixed bag. Every time I -- if I answer that I'm sure it would give you -- it would change in two minutes. It depends who you talk to and it depends when. So there are flights scheduled to go. Will they go, we don't know.

Some are -- we were told that the American Airline flights were not going but it will be interesting to see if, in fact, eventually if they resume and they are going. Well, at this moment, I think it's pretty much a mixed bag. It's unclear.


NGUYEN: We definitely have an update since that interview with Soledad just a little bit earlier today. As I reported a few minutes ago the airport in Santiago will be closed for the next 24 hours. There is damage at one of the terminals. So that is shut down as of now.

MARCIANO: But we should make the point, also, that our crews will get there.

NGUYEN: Someway ...

MARCIANO: Just like in Haiti, we will get there.

NGUYEN: ... somehow.

MARCIANO: They're en route. And we will have reports from the CNN crews on the ground here likely within the next 12 if not 24 hours.

NGUYEN: No doubt. In the meantime, though, Rolando Santos, who is the President of CNN in Chile -- we do have a bureau there. Well, he was actually at home in Santiago when that quake struck. He says it actually knocked him out of his bed. Things came crashing down off the walls.

And he joined me by phone. And here's a listen to what he had to say.


ROLANDO SANTOS, CNN PRESIDENT OF CHILE (via telephone): The situation started a little after 3:30 this morning, about 3:40 or so. There was a violent shaking in Santiago, no question about it. And I certainly -- I literally got knocked out of bed and on to the floor. And it was pretty clear because of the length of the earthquake that it was going to be a major earthquake.

The city almost immediately went dark. I mean, looking out from the balcony of my apartment, everything went black. And the earthquake lasted at least for the part where I was awake, it's a good 45 seconds to almost a minute.

So you can imagine the intensity of the shock. And I've lived in San Francisco and been through some quakes in San Francisco and California and this was one of the worst. Driving in to the CNN Chile headquarters here, the city was virtually dark. I saw a lot of facades. I didn't see any collapsed buildings although we have reports of that.

Keep in mind that of course, it happened about 3:40 in the morning local time, so it's a little difficult to see what was going on. The quake itself was located about 100 kilometers north of the town of Concepcion. Concepcion is the second largest city in the region. And it was felt all the way from Concepcion as far away as Argentina.

NGUYEN: What have you heard, Rolando, as far as officials giving any accounts of any casualties? Are there any initial reports? SANTOS: Yes, we are. We just -- in fact, I just got a tape that came in from the Office of Emergency Services. The President is there. And she is saying that the earthquake was a 8.3 on the Richter Scale. We still use the Richter scale down here, or a grade 9 on the Mercalli scale.

And there are six deaths in the country. Five of them occurred in the fifth region. Down here we're not situated by states or by districts. They're known as regions. In an area called Maule. And Maule is spelled m-a-u-l-e which is roughly about 95 to 100 kilometers north of Concepcion which will make it definitely six or seven hours south of Santiago.

NGUYEN: So that's Maule? Is that right?

SANTOS: Maule, M-A-U-L-E.

NGUYEN: All right.

SANTOS: It's a region -- the region for people who know the area looking it up on the map, it's known as bio region. And that's spelled b-i-o like in boy b-i-o. It was the original capital of Chile at one point before we moved up to Santiago en de Valparaiso (ph).

So right now we have an unconfirmed report that the major bridge between the north and southern sections of the country is out or at least not operable. I don't know if it's actually, if there's damage to it to the point where it's fallen apart or whether it's simply so much debris and stuff that you can't get from one end of the country to the other if you were driving.


MARCIANO: That was CNN Chile President Rafael (SIC) Santos. An update -- that was taped earlier, of course -- and to just give you an update on the fatalities right now, 78 confirmed fatalities. And we do expect that number to rise.

We've got some great insight earlier in the program from a meteorologist in Hawaii, KITV meteorologist at one of our affiliates. His name is Justin Fujioka. Here's what he had to say about the quake and the incoming tsunami.


MARCIANO: And what can you tell us is the local state of mind right now? What's going on?

JUSTIN FUJIOKA, KITV METEOROLOGIST: Well, good morning, Rob. It is just after 2:40 a.m. here in the Hawaiian Islands. And we have gotten word from Civil Defense that they will be sounding the siren from 6:00 a.m. tomorrow morning, about three hours 20 minutes from now. The evacuation sirens kind of give the word that the police, the Civil Defense will be out and about evacuating people within an evacuation zone. And I don't know if we're one of the only states that have this in the front of a phone book but we do have maps here that actually show inundation zones in a possible tsunami event. Anyone within that shaded area will be evacuated again at 6:00 a.m. our time. And that's also when the Civil Defense sirens will go off.

And the Civil Defense is urging everyone here in the Hawaiian islands to use phones sparingly, only in emergency purposes because they will need all of those resources to get these evacuations under way at 6:00 a.m. with the possible threat of this tsunami striking just about four and a half hours later at 11:19 is when that first potentially destructive wave is expected to hit the islands.

MARCIANO: Justin, what do you expect to see as far as the number of people that will evacuate the coastline, how far away from coastline will they have to be? I assume there's some sort of drills if not annual, sometime -- of some frequency that are practiced in anticipation of these kind of events?

FUJIOKA: That's correct Rob and in fact, we have a monthly test of the sirens on the first working day of each month just to make sure these sirens are working. Civil Defense does do -- do these routines quite often to practice these types of evacuation orders.

I'm not sure if you can actually see these maps that I just showed up. But it actually includes many big hotels in the Waikiki area. So that will be a big problem in just a few hours from now when they try to evacuate hundreds or even thousands of people along the coastline there on Waikiki and the south shore of Oahu.

We did have two previous events like this that luckily did not result in a destructive earthquake. And that was back in 1994 and again in 1986, the past two tsunami warnings did not generate a destructive tsunami here in the islands but they both did -- cause some significant chaos here on the islands as far as traffic.

If there's any consolation to this event, we are waking up here to a Saturday morning here on the islands rather than all those prior events, which were weekday events and many other -- more people were on the road at that time.

Of course, this is the overnight time here. We're already getting reports from local markets here that people are starting to hoard up on food and signs of going up as well that we are looking at possibility of people just putting up signs. They're saying you can only take two or three items of this type of thing, canned goods especially.

MARCIANO: You mentioned the sirens aren't going off for another three or four hours. I suspect that's one of the ways they're going to try limit the chaos and potentially panic because the wave isn't supposed to arrive for another four or five hours after that.

Are they evacuating from -- everybody from all aspects of the coastline and this wave is going to be approaching from the south and east? Would northern coastlines be a little bit safer or is this a situation where the islands as small as they are, it's all encompassing?

FUJIOKA: It is all encompassing, Rob. Well, this type of energy is not like an ocean generated swell where we see most of the energy on the direction where that energy is coming from. This type of energy has in the past several times wrapped around the islands and we actually see waves much larger on the back side of these islands.

It just -- again, depends on the topography of the ocean floor beneath where the waves run into the shorelines here that we could see a possible run-up, especially in harbors, maybe bays, places where this energy is amplified.

MARCIANO: And Justin, one other question. Speaking with a geophysicist at the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center and he anticipates -- at least right now with his data -- a 10 to 15-foot wave in the harbors and bays including Hilo Bay. What would that mean for the number of people that are living there?

FUJIOKA: Well, Rob, our last destructive tsunami was in 1975. A local generated tsunami. Before that we had several in the 1950s and the 1960s. In 1960 we did have an earthquake off the coast of Chile. I believe it's the strongest one in recorded history at 9.5. And that earthquake did generate a destructive tsunami in the Hilo Bay area at 30 feet.

So that would -- this situation would not be as bad as the destructive tsunami that did kill 61 people in Hilo Bay. But Hilo is one of those topographical areas that tend to enhance this type energy. And many, many events, regardless of what direction this energy comes from Hilo tends to be the center of attention as far as devastation and problems in these types of events.


MARCIANO: All right. So you know Hawaii under the bull's-eye here ...


MARCIANO: ... as far as tsunami warning. And we have a huge tsunami warning all encompassing the entire Pacific basin, with the exception of California, Oregon and Washington right now. They may upgrade that to a watch or a warning. But as Justin mentioned, the wave expected to get to Hawaii at 11:00 a.m. local time, about 4:00 p.m. here in the -- on the Eastern Time zone and this 8.8 magnitude quake rocking the coastline of Chile at 3:30 a.m. local -- their local time this morning.

NGUYEN: Yes, so the problem is twofold here. We've got the tsunami warnings that are up and people preparing for that and in fact, many people are evacuating for that. But then you also have the quake itself and the aftershocks. One of the aftershocks was as large as 6.9 in magnitude. And then all of this has caused a lot of destruction.

We're seeing some video now of a building on fire and also learning, too, of a 15-story building near Concepcion that has, in fact, collapsed. And witnesses nearby reporting hearing screams from the people trapped underneath that rubble there, that coming to us from Chile TVN. We want to let you know as well that CNN does have a bureau in Chile.

We are working to bring you more pictures, more video and more sound from the people who actually experienced this and continue to experience the aftershocks.

But the latest is this; 8.8 magnitude earthquake has rocked Chile. It happened overnight, about 3:30 local time. At this hour, at least 78 people are dead.



NGUYEN: All right. Breaking news out of Haiti today; and 8.8 magnitude quake has just rocked that country -- excuse me, Chile. I'm saying Haiti. We've been comparing this to Haiti because the quake in Haiti was 7.0 in magnitude. If you compare that to the quake in Chile, which is 8.8 in magnitude you're saying that's about -- what -- 500 times more powerful?

MARCIANO: Yes, mathematically it's 500 times -- releases 500 times more energy. It's 500 times stronger, more shaking all that kind; there's other things that factor into the damage. One of them being the building codes which are better in Chile, but in some of the pictures we're seeing now getting into the CNN Newsroom are striking, nonetheless.

CNN's Josh Levs has been following that information that's been coming online.

LEVS: (INAUDIBLE) single most powerful image. It might be the most powerful image I've seen all day. I want this camera to push way, way, way into this picture behind me. And you're going to see what -- basically what we're getting now.

The Associated Press has sent along some of the first photos from this quake. And what you're looking at there are some overturned cars on a highway. While we stay on this, I want to tell you what the caption says. It says, "Vehicles that were driving along a highway that collapsed during the earthquake near Santiago are seen overturned on the asphalt."

That was shot early this morning there in the Santiago area. This is also a couple -- look at that. All these here, if you're having trouble seeing, that was a continuous road. It seems to be split right now. And this is a series of cars that have turned over. You can see the rubble right there.

Let me flash you through a couple other photos they've sent us. This is an area where you can see a dog standing right there in the dark. And they say residents seen outside their home. They say this is inside Santiago. Again, from the Associated Press, inside Santiago; this was shot early this morning, as well.

Let me go to one more here. This is where we have some people who are being with taken out. We don't know their circumstances behind it. All we know is that they felt the earthquake. This is in Santiago area as well. These people being taken out. Looks like they're being wheeled out of their homes in some cases or maybe it's wrapped up on chairs and being cared for right there.

I'm going to go back to that first shot that we're seeing right here. If you're just waking up and joining us, these are some of the first photos that we're getting. These are from the A.P. and these come to us from Chile in this area in which, first of all, the 8.8 magnitude quake struck. And then since then, there's been a series of other quakes.

In fact I've been following all the web for you today. I want you to take a look while you're there. Right here, just over those words, there you go. All of these blue squares, every single blue square is a separate quake that has struck that area inside Haiti (SIC) today. Obviously there's a lot of concerns about the people in that entire region.

So you have this area called Concepcion; so you also have the area, Santiago is in this area as well. We are getting more and more reports of people throughout that area able to feel it as it was coming.

The number we have for it so far is 8.8. And when the U.S. Geology Survey looks at the biggest most powerful quakes in history -- that was mentioned not long ago -- 8.8 would rank way, way up there. In fact the most powerful quake in all of recorded history was in Chile in 1960, and that was a 9.5. These numbers sometimes change in the days after a quake as we learn more information. Right now all the latest we have is that it was 8.8.

And while we are on this map, let me zoom over a couple of other web pages we're following. I want everyone to understand how this can affect the United States and other areas all over the place. Why there are concerns about Hawaii and why people in Australia are tweeting me; they've been getting some tsunami warnings.

Here's why. Chile is on the outside coast of South America right here. When you zoom over here to the west, you have Hawaii right there, the United States right here. There are some concerns about the West Coast. Also all of the way down to Australia, over here, concerns there's as well.

So what we're doing is following every interactive element for you. People looking for their loved ones. People posting pictures online. We're following Facebook. We're following Twitter. We're following CNN iReport. Any photos, videos, stories you have, go ahead and send them along.

And unfortunately Betty and Rob, we can see -- expect to see some more of those powerful photos like we saw here. MARCIANO: You mentioned the 8.8 magnitude, they may change the number but what's not going to change are those pictures that we're ...

NGUYEN: Right.

MARCIANO: What's striking to me Josh is that those pictures you said are coming out of Santiago, 200 miles from the epicenter.

NGUYEN: Away from it, exactly.


MARCIANO: Just giving an idea of how incredibly strong this quake is.

NGUYEN: And not only will we see damage but we're also going to see damage from the tsunami as well. You've got both of those factors as we get closer to the epicenter that we're going to see pictures coming to us.

I want to let you know about this. We are getting a statement from the State Department spokesperson there. I just want to read part of that to you right now, saying, "Our heartfelt condolences and prayers for the people and residents of Chile who are confronted with this disaster. We are committed to helping the people of Chile as well as looking after the welfare of the many Americans who live in and visit Chile each year. We have reached out to and stand ready to assist the government of Chile as rapidly and effectively as we can."

There are reports of damaged structures as well as casualties. It goes on to say, "regarding the secretary's travel, our understanding of the situation is changing rapidly so there's no decision on that just yet. The priority right now is the safety and well-being of those impacted by the disaster."

Again, this from the spokesperson at the state department responding to the situation in Chile where there have been numerous reports of massive damage. And we are learning at this hour that the death toll is 78 people so far, but unfortunately many people are expecting that to rise throughout the day.

MARCIANO: Search and rescue, first responders certainly in overdrive right now. And no doubt the international agencies fresh off of Haiti will be deploying folks into this area also.

These are live pictures, I'm told coming in to us now. So take a look at your TV screen. This is fresh from what we've been showing you all morning long. And blue skies shroud, unfortunately, the damage done by this 8.8 magnitude quake hitting the Chilean coastline earlier this morning.

Obviously fires being broken out because of various infrastructure that's broken gas lines as you can imagine, sparks flying just from the buildings collapsing. And this sort of scene, no doubt echoed throughout not only Santiago but down the coastline towards Concepcion.

You know what, let's get a little perspective and maybe we can throw these pictures up at the same time as well. We want to talk to Chad and get a little perspective on this -- on this quake.

Chad, give us some insight as to where this quake is and what are the tidbits that you've been discovering since you got in this morning.

MYERS: Well, the numbers really, I think, tell the story. And numbers to people that are just out there and they have never studied what a 7.0 in Haiti is compared to an 8.8, what we're talking this morning.

If you go from 7.0 to 8.0 -- I know this is confusing but I'm just going to go through it the best I can -- it is 32 times more powerful, an 8.0 is compared to a 7.0. If you go from an 8.0 to a 9.0, that's another 32 times. You literally must multiply those together and come up with 1,000 -- it's a rough math -- 1,000 times more powerful between 7.0 and 9.0.

So we're not at 9.0 but we're at 8.8, close enough. Let's make this 800 times more powerful than the Haitian earthquake. That's what happened last night under the water very close to the coast of Chile.

And why does it matter that it was very close? Well, it's part of where this subduction zone is. We talk about the trench that's offshore. We talk about one plate, these plates that are all moving around the earth and have been for millions of years. This plate shifted underneath the land, underneath the water and the water bulged out. As the water bulged like throwing a giant stone into the ocean, now there's a wave bubble that's coming, coming for Hawaii, it's coming for New Zealand, it's coming for all of the western coasts.

Just because you don't live on one side or the other of Hawaii, doesn't mean you're not going to get a wave. Even if you're on the northwest side of Hawaii, you could get a wave from this very large generated tsunami. Also what could have happened with this large earthquake, there could have been even some undersea landslides that could have happened to cause even more disruption of the water.

Here's what we expect. Here's where the trench is. And what we have, we have a couple of plates that come together; one going down and one landing on top.

Dr. Frankel, come on up here just for a second. We have -- this is my phone a friend. I just -- Dr. Frankel from Georgia.

FRANKEL: Good morning.

MYERS: I'm trying to describe what happened here along this trench, along where one plate has met the other and where this actually, because it was actually underground by, what, 20 miles?

FRANKEL: About 20 miles, yes.

MYERS: About 20 miles underground. So this earthquake didn't happen right along the trench, as we know it.

FRANKEL: Right, along the plate interface.

MYERS: But it still happened along the interface of where this part of this plate now meets this plate here.

FRANKEL: That's right. So this one is subducting down beneath this one and this is locked, most of the time. And then when that earthquake occurs, this part of the crust is going to rebound up like this and the surface of the ocean floor moves up which causes the tsunami.

MYERS: I'm getting lots of waves over your head so I'm going to -- I know that that means that I have other things here to show you. This is where the fault or the plate would have been.


MYERS: Would have been earlier, yesterday.

FRANKEL: That's right. So as this one is coming down, it's essentially bending -- this is the Nazca plate, the oceanic plate.

MYERS: This is ocean.

FRANKEL: That's ocean, this is continent.

MYERS: And this is Chile.

FRANKEL: Right. This is denser than this and so it's sinking beneath. As it's sinking it's locked most of the time and so that upper plate, South America is sort of bending down and then eventually that stress exceeds the strength of that rock and pops an earthquake and the ocean floor or the floor moves, the crust moves up.

MYERS: And this is exactly what happened in the Banda Ache plate, correct?

FRANKEL: That's right. Correct.

MYERS: So there's water up here although not very much because eventually the Andes Mountains up there. So this water is what was moved.

FRANKEL: That's correct.

MYERS: Now the land moved as well. And that's why we're getting earthquake damage.

FRANKEL: That's right.

MYERS: On land.

FRANKEL: Right. So the waves are probably ...

MYERS: From the shaking. But the water bubble here somewhere. FRANKEL: Yes, and then ...

MYERS: Part of that bubble went on to Chile and part of that bubble is still propagating across the Pacific Ocean.

Ok. Great. Let me see what else we have here. This looks like probably the same thing.

FRANKEL: That's same thing. This is the fault.

MYERS: Now this happened before. This was yesterday.

FRANKEL: That's yesterday.

MYERS: This was yesterday when there was a lot of bending going on, although we didn't know it. We had earthquakes north of here and south of here over the past 50 years.


MYERS: ... or so, 80 years, whatever. But this particular area didn't pop.

FRANKEL: Didn't pop, that's right.

MYERS: Right? Is that right?

FRANKEL: Right. We had a large earthquake in 1960 and large earthquake in 1922 but those were sort of north and south of this location. This location had not experienced a large earthquake. This is releasing the stress between those two other earthquakes.

MYERS: All right. Let's get to this number, 8.8. What does it mean?

FRANKEL: Ok. So that's the magnitude.

MYERS: Not Richter scale anymore.

FRANKEL: Not the Richter scale.

MYERS: We don't use that word anymore.

FRANKEL: That's right.

MYERS: If you hear Richter scale, they don't know what they're talking about. We don't use that word anymore.

FRANKEL: Right. This is what we call moment magnitude and it is a function of the fault plain area that ruptures and the length of the rupture. And so the surface rupture, the surface length along the trench and then the area of the down-going slab that ruptures.

MYERS: So let me try to draw this in three dimensions. We're going to take this and draw it up pretending we're going up toward Peru. This continues to go. This fault lasts a long distance. MYERS: It goes all -- almost all the way -- not the Nazca plate but up into Central America all the way down almost to Antarctica.

FRANKEL: Right. That's right.

MYERS: So this 8.8 is a function of a multiple occasion (ph) factor. You just told me about this a couple of weeks ago. It's a surface area. How much slipped?

FRANKEL: How much the area that slipped on that down-going plate and how long that slip was.

MYERS: And how much it slipped?

FRANKEL: How much it slipped, yes.

MYERS: And how much it slipped.

FRANKEL: So the length and the distance of slip.

MYERS: So let's go back to a kind of more pretty graphic here. Banda Ache slipped for, what you say, almost 1,000 kilometers, 600 miles.

FRANKEL: That's right.

MYERS: You don't know how much it slipped until you all multiply these aftershocks out.

FRANKEL: Right. You sort of have to wait for the aftershocks to come in and over days or weeks.

MYERS: This is the original quake.

FRANKEL: That's right.

MYERS: At 8.8. And there have been aftershocks all the way through here. As we measure this, you're going to say from here, which is Santiago, right there, all of the way down to this so far, that's where the --

FRANKEL: That's potentially where the ...

MYERS: That's the potential area of the slip.

FRANKEL: That's right.

MYERS: The larger the area, the more the shake, the more the wave.

FRANKEL: That's right.

MYERS: And the bigger the number.


MYERS: And that's how we're 8.8 today.

FRANKEL: That's how we're 8.8.

MYERS: And so we're 800 times, 700 times stronger than Haiti.

FRANKEL: Bigger than Haiti, that's right.

MYERS: Sort of scary this morning, guys.

MARCIANO: All right. Thank you, Dr. Frankel. Thank you, Chad Myers. Great resource you've tapped in across the street there at Georgia Tech. We're getting back to that tag team, no doubt, in the coming hours.

NGUYEN: Yes. Great resource, but boy, when you look at the numbers, you just look at the magnitude of this. It puts it all in perspective and indeed it is pretty frightening. We are still just getting some of the early pictures in.