Magnitude-8.8 Chile quake triggers RP tsunami alert 1

By Mark D. Meruenas – State seismologists on Saturday afternoon hoisted a Tsunami Alert Level 1 in the Philippines after a powerful 8.8-magnitude earthquake hit south-central Chile on the other side of the Pacific Ocean at 3:34 a.m. Saturday (2:34 p.m. Saturday in Manila).

Reports said that the Philippine Embassy officials and staff in the capital city of Santiago were all safe. Meanwhile, the Philippine Red Cross has alerted its chapters and volunteers to monitor coastal areas.

In an interview on ABS-CBN, Renato Solidum, director of the Philippine Institute for Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs), said that if the earthquake did create a tsunami, it may be expected to arrive sometime between 1:30 p.m. and 2p.m. on Sunday

The powerful quake rocked south-central Chile, killing at least 78 people based on initial reports and also setting off a tsunami as high as 1.29 meters off the Pacific Ocean, according to Chilean officials.

Solidum said they are closely monitoring the situation on this side of the Pacific rim to determine if the tsunami triggered off Chile would reach Philippine shores.

“Binabantayan namin kung aabot ito sa ating bansa… Bilang pag-iingat, nagpalabas ang Phivolcs-DOST ng Tsunami Alert Level 1 (We are monitoring if the tsunami will reach the Philippines. But as a precautionary measure, we are raising a Tsunami Alert Level 1),” said Solidum.

He said the Phivolcs was prompted to raise the alert at about 3:10 p.m. Saturday based on a lesson learned from a more powerful 9.5-magnitude earthquake in May 1960 that also hit Chile. (See Wikipedia article on the 1960 Valdivia earthquake)

The resulting tsunami made it to the Philippine coastlines more than 24 hours after the earthquake struck the South American nation, Solidum said over radio dzBB.

Accounts by villagers in Samar and Surigao provinces—the areas in the country most affected by that tsunami—claimed that the huge wall of water reached as high as six meters, he added.

The Phivolcs official, however, clarified that a Tsunami Alert Level 1 does not yet mean people living near the country’s Pacific coastlines are advised to evacuate to higher ground.

“Ibig sabihin lang nito, kailangan lang maghintay kung may bagong information… kailangan tayong mag-ingat doon (We just have to wait for further information),” he said.

Solidum stressed that evacuations are only necessary once a Tsunami Alert Level 3 has been raised. He advised people, especially those living in the eastern part of the Philippines, to be on the alert for any further announcements from Phivolcs.

In its latest advisory, Phivolcs identified 19 areas along the east coast of the Philippines as areas of concern:

Batanes Group of Islands
Ilocos Norte
Camarines Norte
Camarines Sur
Northern Samar
Eastern Samar
Southern Leyte
Surigao del Norte
Surigao del Sur
Davao Oriental
Davao del Sur

“While no evacuation order is in effect, communities along these coasts are advised to prepare for possible evacuation,” Phivolcs said.

The earthquake in Chile happened at 3:34 a.m. local time (2:34 p.m. Saturday in Manila) and lasted for a minute and a half. Power and communication lines had already gone down in Chile’s capital of Santiago, the Associated Press reported.

The point-to-point distance from Santiago, Chile to Manila, Philippines is 17,638 km. The Phivolcs website did not provide tsunami speeds from which to calculate the possible arrival of tsunamis on the western side of the Pacific, although the tsunami generated by the 1960 Chile earthquake reportedly took 24 hours to reach the Philippines.

RP Embassy staff are safe

Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) spokesperson Ed Malaya said the six fatalities initially reported did not include a Filipino, according to a separate radio dzMM report.

In another texted message from Malaya on Saturday evening, he assured the public that the DFA was able to communicate with Minister Narciso Castaneda of the Philippine Embassy in Chile, who in turn reported that Ambassador Puyat Reyes and the rest of the embassy staff members are safe.

Castañeda’s report said that Ambassador Reyes’ residence in the capital city of Santiago sustained some damage, but otherwise no one was hurt among his household. He added that electricity is down in his district.

Malaya said that as per DFA records, there are 89 Filipinos residing or working in Chile.

GenSan and Japan quakes

Two separate earthquakes, both with relatively strong magnitudes, preceded the quake in Chile.

A magnitude-5.3 earthquake hit Mindanao at 12:18 a.m. of Saturday, with the epicenter first traced 76 km southeast of General Santos City.

It was felt at Intensity IV in General Santos City, with no reported damage and aftershocks, Phivolcs said in an advisory.

Four hours after the southern Philippine quake, another one with a 6.9 magnitude rocked Japan’s southern coast at about 5:31 a.m. local time (4:31 a.m. in Manila).

Apart from damaged water pipes in some areas in Okinawa, there were no reports of major structural damage or casualties, according to The Associated Press.

Phivolcs initially issued a Tsunami Alert Level at 4:46 a.m. but lifted it shortly after.

“When no observations are still reported for the next two hours, local authorities and the public can assume this minor threat has passed,” Phivolcs said in its advisory earlier in the day.

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