Chilean authorities evacuate Easter Island after major earthquake

10:43, February 28, 2010      

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The Chilean Army began on Saturday the evacuation of people from many parts of Easter Island, some 3,500 km from Valparaiso on Chile's Pacific coast, for fears of high sea waves triggered by a magnitude-8.8 earthquake that struck the country early in the morning.

Chilean President Michelle Bachelet told local radio station Cooperativa that "the sea waves of great height could reach the Easter Island, which is why we are evacuating the people of the lower zones."

"The Army has taken measures and will evacuate part of the island as a preventive measure," said Bachelet, adding that the situation in that island is "normal."

The island is a popular tourist destination in the Pacific famous for its towering Moai stone statues.

Easter Island's mayor, Luz Zossa, told the media that the evacuation was being carried out smoothly.

"The people went to the higher zones (of the island). Everything has been super calm; the people have collaborated a lot, " Zossa said.

The island has some 4,000 inhabitants. While the powerful Saturday earthquake wasn't even felt there, the authorities believed there remained a possibility of the island being affected by strong sea waves.

The earthquake occurred at 03:34 a.m. local time (0634 GMT), and so far at least 147 people have been reported killed, according to official figures. A tsunami warning was issued across the Pacific rim following the powerful temblor.

According to Bachelet, the worst-hit zone in the country was Maule, capital of Talca, where at least 85 people died.

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