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CNN BREAKING NEWS

CNN International Coverage of Chilean Earthquake

Aired February 27, 2010 - 14:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


JONATHAN MANN, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: A massive earthquake rocks Chile sending tsunami waves across the Pacific Ocean.

ISHA SESAY, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: We are monitoring the damage and where and when possible tsunamis will hit. I'm Isha Sesay.

MANN: I'm Jonathan Mann, and you're watching CNN's ongoing coverage.

SESAY: Here is what we know right now. Let's bring you up to speed with the very latest coming into us here at CNN. At least 147 people were killed in the 8.8 magnitude quake. It struck just 100 kilometers from Chile around 3:30 in the morning when a lot of people were asleep in their beds.

Dozens of aftershocks have rattled the area, hitting as far away as Argentina. Right now, let's bring you up to date with the situation on the ground as we know it. There is no power, no water and no telephone services in Chile's capital of Santiago. The airport is out of commission for at least the next 24 hours.

The earthquake triggered tsunami warning all across the Pacific Ocean. The provincial governor of Chile Juan Fernandez Island says a massive wave struck hours ago, killing at least three people. We saw some pictures a short time ago of those aerial shots. Hawaii itself is bracing for a possible tsunami less than two hours from now.

MANN: We have reporters all over the region, plus our partner network, CNN Chile, is bringing us the latest video with reporters there. And in Washington with reaction from the White House, Kate Bolduan we are expecting to hear from in a short time ago. The president spoke just a short time ago, offering America's aid to the people of Chile.

But for the time being, the Chilean government itself says it don't know exactly what it needs. We heard from the president, interior minister, the president-elect, the education minister and ambassadors. All of them repeat the same message -- Chile has suffered a terrible disaster of an enormous scale, but it simply doesn't understand yet the extent of the death and the devastation and the help it's going to need.

Let's go to Kate Bolduan who's live now at the White House with more on what the president was offering. Kate?

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi there, Jonathan. Yes, President Barack Obama came out just a short time ago to make a relatively brief statement, two cameras on the developing situation. And he was trying to make the point very clear that this White House, this administration is watching the situation very closely. Listen to a little bit of the president.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Earlier today, a devastating earthquake struck the nation of Chile affecting millions of people. This catastrophic event was followed by multiple aftershocks and prompted tsunami warnings across the Pacific Ocean.

Earlier today, I was briefed by my national security team on the steps we are taking to protect our own people and to stand with our Chilean friends.

Early indications are hundreds of lives have been lost in Chile and the damage is severe. On behalf of the American people, Michelle and I send our deepest condolences to the Chilean people.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BOLDUAN: President Obama went on to say he has reached out to Chilean President Bachelet, saying that the United States is ready to assist any way that is needed, any way we can.

The president also making a point, Jonathan, to urge citizens, especially in light of the tsunami warnings that are in place for parts of the United States, included especially Hawaii, to head the instructions of state and local officials. He talked about it a couple times, trying to really drive home the point it was important to listen to officials on the ground and listen to instructions they are giving you.

The president very much on top of it. This morning we're told by the White House press secretary he was in the situation room being briefed. You see a picture there by some of his top advisers, including Secretary of State Hillary Clinton as well as Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano either in the room or on a conference call keeping the president up to date. You can be sure they are watching this as this continues.

MANN: Kate Bolduan at the White House, thanks very much.

BOLDUAN: Thanks, Jonathan.

SESAY: Now, at this point in time, let's bring in CNN senior Latin American affairs editor Rafael Romo. He's actually monitoring this disaster from the Chile desk. Rafael, give us a sense of what you are seeing coming into you.

RAFAEL ROMO, CNN SENIOR LATIN AMERICAN AFFAIRS EDITOR: Isha, some of the images coming into the international desk speak volumes of what's going on in Chile right now. For example, let me give you an idea of the rescue efforts going on right now. This family was trapped in a building, and for a moment there they thought they were going to lose their lives.

But fortunately, they were identified, they were seen and found. And little by little, one by one, here you see a little girl being rescued, and then one by one the rest of the members of the family start being rescued.

This happened in the city of Concepcion only 70 miles from the epicenter of the earthquake, so you can imagine how strong the earthquake had to have felt in that part of Chile.

The girl and her family seen doing well, no major injuries that we can talk about. So this is one of the success stories we can talk about after this morning's 8.8 magnitude earthquake.

One thing I would like to point out though is that President Michelle Bachelet justa bout an hour ago confirmed there has been a prison that was badly damaged. The problem there at the prison was some inmates are believed to have escaped, a situation we also saw in Haiti.

President Bachelet said there was nothing we could do. We are dealing with an earthquake, a disaster situation, and we are going to try to take control of the situation as soon as we can. Right now, Isha, the priority is rescuing people who are still alive and trapped under the rubble, try to rescue as many people alive as they can.

SESAY: Indeed, Rafael, that really is the key thing here, getting a hand on how many people may still be trapped under that rubble.

ROMO: Exactly. It's very difficult to determine. Just in Santiago alone there are 5 million people, just to give you an idea. There is absolutely no indication as to how many people remain trapped at this hour. But just by the sheer number of population, you can get a good idea.

In places like the town of Concepcion, about 670,000 people, dozens of believed to still be trapped. So as this story develops we are going to get a better idea how many people have been trapped. And the death toll you already mentioned, it stands at 147 right now, 147 people killed as a result of this earthquake.

SESAY: Rafael, I know you're on top of this story and we'll continue to check in with you there at the Chile desk. Rafael Romo, many thanks.

Aftershocks are still rattling Chile and scaring those who lived through the quake. Eyewitnesses are describing the terror of the experience now. Listen to them in their own words.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LORENA RIOS, LIVES IN SANTIAGO, CHILE (via telephone): It was the most terrifying experience because it started and it kept increasing and the intensity kept going up and up and up. And everything was moving. I actually saw thought that the ground was going to swallow the entire car. It was shaking. It shook the car as if nothing.

People start coming out to the streets. We also saw some type of lighting in the sky. We thought it was people shutting down the electricity.

Fortunately we did not see any buildings suffer any kind of damage on the exterior. However, many people got hurt inside because things fell on them or they got cut with glass that got broken running out of their building.

People were in the streets with their kids, their families. And it just felt it was never going to end.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MANN: That's where the story begins, and it's hardly over. Tsunami warnings have been spread all around the Pacific basin. In Hawaii, sirens began to ring the alarm at 6:00 a.m. local time.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And so with respect to how is something ...

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MANN: The earthquake struck while the people of Hawaii were asleep, but that will get your attention. That siren warning residents who live near the water to get up and start moving to higher ground.

The first tsunami waves are expected to hit Hawaii a little less than two hours from now. Some businesses were crowded with people buying emergency supplies, but they are shutting down along with schools and parks and harbors. Hilo's international airport is expected to be hit hard. It is closed, as well.

SESAY: We are fully on top of this story for you. At this point in time, let's bring in Eboni Deon at the weather center and get some more information. John pointed out at the top of the show, CNN is putting all its resources into getting you all the information we can possibly get. Ebony, what can you tell us?

EBONI DEON, CNN INTERNATIONAL METEOROLOGIST: I just want to show you some of the areas that have already seen the tsunami waves going through the area. As you can see, the closest to the epicenter we felt higher wave heights.

However, the further out you go the wave heights significantly decrease. But we don't want to discount the impact that could be felt along the shoreline, because you get that water piling up as it continues to travel, and then once you see that interacting with the topography of the shorelines, that really indicates how that area could be impacted.

So although the water height is not that high around Acapulco, once it actually hit the shoreline it could have been much higher. So certainly that's something we have to watch out for.

Here is a look at the model. As you can see, the size of the waves over the open ocean don't look all that impressive, especially the further out you go as you get out to the coastal areas of Australia and towards Japan.

But that could change. Of course, as we get into the middle of the Pacific Ocean around the Hawaii area where we have the tsunami warnings in place, they have the base. And that's where all that energy could pile up.

So the size certainly increases as it gets closer to the shoreline and we get those bigger waves. And that could create the damage.

As we take a look back in time, we are talking about an 8.8 magnitude earthquake. This is one of the most powerful felt since the 1900s time period. That is why we see that very far reaching tsunami warning in place for all of the Pacific Ocean including places as far as Japan and Asia, which are expected to feel waves maybe by Sunday morning.

Let's take a look at our other sources to just show you a model of how those waves propagate outwards. Once the wave starts to hit and propagate outwards, it certainly lessens, but the water behind it is left very disturbed just like in a bath tub. If the water sloshes back and forth, it takes time for that water to settle back into place.

So we'll have to watch out for those islands very closely. Around Pago Pago, the American Samoa, really watching out on high alert there because we felt some damage in this area very recently, and so we are going to watch those waves continue to move out towards Japan into Australia.

We could certainly see very minimal wave heights, but the impacts certainly can't be determined this early on. Around Hawaii, those sirens continue to go off and will do so. We are expected to feel those waves in the next few hours. Isha?

SESAY: Eboni, we appreciate it.

And we want to point out for our viewers, John, that we are just getting some images, as you saw there, of the disaster, the impact on Chilean highways. Let's show you these pictures just coming into us, although they seems to be more infrastructural images.

But there you have it in that top box on your screen. That is a highway in Chile. It's quite clear this 8.8 magnitude quake took a severe toll on it. The cracks are clear to see. We know many of the roads are impossible. These pictures just coming into CNN. We wanted to bring them to you to build out you picture as to impact of this quake there in Chile.

MANN: And it's one indication of the problems the government is having simply finding out the center of the disaster. Communication are still difficult. Transportation is difficult. The president on down, officials are saying they still do not know exactly how much trouble the people of Chile are in as a result of this earthquake.

But magnitude 8.8, the assumption is it has been bad and now they've got to figure out where the help is need and get the help there.

SESAY: Indeed, we will have more breaking news coverage of this Chile earthquake, as you would expect. We are going to check on next what's happening on the Internet. We have social network sites busy talking about the disaster. We're going to of course bring you what they're saying.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What I'm seeing here in Santiago is really nothing compared to what I'm seeing on TV on the local stations covering Conception. The trees are totally destroyed. The air is literally opened, opened up. Entire buildings are collapsed. It's really a nightmare.

The best sci-fi picture, the best sci-fi movie couldn't describe it better -- if you saw "2012," well, almost.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MANN: The death toll, she said -- well, the earth, she said, literally opened. The death toll for the tremors has risen to 147 according to Chilean officials.

Santiago's airport has been shut down until Sunday. The terminal suffered the worst of it, but runways appear to be operational according to officials. Santiago, the city itself, lost electricity and basic services, including water and communication, while roads and bridges across Chile have been battered.

The country's second largest city, Conception, much closer to the epicenter, has been hit hard.

SESAY: Well, as we mentioned, tsunami warnings are in place in almost every Pacific nation. In some places the water has already begun coming ashore. For more on that, let's send to Jennifer Rhoades, the tsunami programming manager at the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Jennifer, thanks so much for joining us again. We spoke to you in the last hour. Tell us what you are hearing now. We just said the waves have started to come ashore in some places. Build a picture for us. JENNIFER RHOADES, TSUNAMI PROGRAMMING MANAGER, NOAA: Yes. We do have tsunami warnings issued. NOAA has issued tsunami warnings for the majority of the Pacific basin. We are expecting to see inundation in the state of Hawaii around 11:00 a.m. Pacific time. And as you said we have already seen the waves already inundated in places such as Chile, Peru, and other locations around the basin.

In addition, Hawaii has initiated evacuations as well as I just recently heard they are also evacuating people off the beaches in American Samoa.

SESAY: Jennifer ...

RHOADES: In addition there are warnings in the Pacific basin, we also have tsunami advisories posted for California, Oregon, Washington, Alaska, and the west coast of Canada. We are expecting significant -- we are expecting to see very significant currents in the area, so very turbulent water in bays and harbors of those locations.

SESAY: Now, Jennifer, the wave generated by this earthquake in the hours immediately following the quake itself were described as moving across the ocean as fast as a jetliner. How would you characterize the waves now from the data you're looking at and from what you're hearing?

RHOADES: Yes, the waves are propagating across the ocean. And as they are moving, they are at the speed of a jetliner, between 450 to 600 miles per hour. As they get nearer to shore in all of these areas, and it's happening at different times around the basin, but as they do get nearer to shore, they encounter shallower and shallower water.

So the wave speed slows down, but that causes the water to compress. That's why we see a tsunami come into shore with wave heights that can inundate land. And also to note they do come in at a speed of about 35 miles per hour, so a very dangerous situation for those that would be on the beach.

I also want to point out that a tsunami is a series of waves, it's not just one wave. You can expect multiple waves to occur in a location, and the first one not being the largest during event like this.

In addition to that the period in between the waves arrival can be anywhere from five minutes to an hour. So that's why it's so important for people in these locations to move to higher ground, to get off the beach, and to remain in a safe location until local authorities state that it is safe for you to return to those areas.

SESAY: Jennifer, you, as has the president of the United States, been stressing, you've both been stressing that people must listen to their state and local officials at a time like this so they are on top of the latest information.

I am just wondering if you've got any sense as you speak to your colleagues in places like Hawaii and American Samoa as to how smoothly these evacuations are going?

RHOADES: I've heard some reports that people are moving out of the areas. We just want to restate that people need to move. The best thing to do is to do this on foot, if you can. Don't jam up the highways with cars to get to higher ground. You can get to higher ground relatively quickly and in a safe manner by walking to higher ground. You have the time to do that.

And also leave the roads open for emergency officials in this type of a situation.

SESAY: All right.

RHOADES: It's imperative to move to higher ground.

SESAY: All right, Jennifer Rhoades stressing it is imperative to move to higher ground in a place like Hawaii where a tsunami warning is in effect. Jennifer is the tsunami programming manager at the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Thank you for your time and we'll continue to check in with you.

RHOADES: Thank you.

MANN: Isha, we have some new pictures now we'd like to share with people. This is Concepcion, the second largest city in Chile and really the large community closest to the epicenter, about 100 miles away. Have a look. We have not seen a great deal of Concepcion, but you get a sense of some of the damage there. It's extensive.

Let's listen in.

(JOINED IN PROGRESS)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We haven't seen anybody hysterical. People are concerned. They are worried, but they are listening to what the authorities are saying. And there are people going to help to some of the places where some of the situations are happening.

There's a part of the electric cabling on the floor. We are going to continue moving through Concepcion. We're waiting for authorities to give us more information about fatalities and victims.

Concepcion already has had links with 1960 earthquake that changed, completely changed the infrastructure of that city. Many of the houses went down in that earthquake and they had to be rebuilt. If we compare the construction of the houses, we have a lot of structural -- even though a lot of them were rebuilt, we still have many structural problems in the city.

MANN: Just a glimpse there of one of the news accounts we are bringing in as we monitor the situation. We have reporters working the story every way possible and monitoring the news out of Chile on CNN Chile, our colleagues there doing extraordinary efforts to bring us the latest.

We are working the story from every angle, but what we know is this -- 147 people are dead after a magnitude 8.8 quake struck Chile in the middle of the night closest to Concepcion, the city we just saw.

We still don't know the extent of the damage. The government of Chile doesn't know the extent of the damage. But every indication is that the country has suffered a severe blow. Our extensive coverage will continue right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MANN: These images tell the tale of what Chile has endured, shattered buildings, raging fires, and a population clearly stunned by the magnitude of the disaster.

The 8.8 magnitude quake struck in the early morning hours of Saturday morning. The president of Chile declared areas of catastrophe, essentially a bureaucratic mechanism to clear the way for quick supplies of aid.

Here in the United States President Obama says the U.S. is positioning resources in case Chile asks for help.

Countries bordering the Pacific, meantime, are waiting for a tsunami that is rushing across the ocean already having come ashore in several places. The damage, we say tentatively, not as bad as first feared, but that is a very, very tentative description.

Have a look at this, the earthquake itself causing enormous devastation across Chile. They are trying to get a sense of how bad it's been.

Let's get back to the social networking sites. People are putting up news about the damage, about missing loved ones. Errol Barnett is tracking the sites and joins us now with more. Errol, what are you seeing?

ERROL BARNETT, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: What's new Jonathan is that Google is putting their efforts behind what's taken place right now. If you take a look at Google.com, they just added a link. It reads magnitude 8.8 earthquake in Chile, help and learn more.

We can pull up the page for you. You'll find it just under the search box. When you click there, and you'll see it's similar to their efforts that took part in Haiti. They are providing information for donations and those looking for missing relatives. In fact, so far they tell us more than 2,200 submissions have been sent.

Also you see this interactive map they created which has plotted locations of the first quake incident and the subsequent aftershocks.

And we have mentioned another group taking part in this. It's called Crisis Mapping. They were instrumental in doing this after Haiti's devastating quake and took part in daily web cam conference calls with the U.S. State Department to help connect all those dots popping up online. Here one of their directors, Patrick Myer, tells me what similarities these two efforts share.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PATRICK MYER: We are going to be mapping for the Chile platform using the same categories and indicators we did for Haiti. These categories and indicators basically include emergency collapsed structures, aftershocks, medical emergencies, issues having to do with vital lines like power outages, blocked roads, as well as issues having to do with response, food distribution as well as water distribution.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BARNETT: And we can't understate the importance of this as power lines are down, meaning communication lines are down. Many friends and families of relatives of people who are in Chile are anxious and worried right now. They have not been able to get in contact.

We are also using iReport. We have a newly vetted iReport mobile phone video to show you now uploaded from Santiago in Chile. It's slightly blurry, but Marco Bakusavich (ph) is walking through his devastated apartment just hours after the quake struck just as the sun was coming up.

And you can see the place is structurally standing, but the damage is apparent throughout, cracks in the walls, debris all over the floor. He is not sure if he will stay in this home or try and move somewhere else for the time being.

We're also making use of all the social networks, viewers finding me on Facebook under Errol Barnett on CNN and really sharing their experience.

Here I got a note a short while ago from Nicholas Castro. He's in Santiago, and he tells me right now the city is paralyzed. However, he says unlike Haiti, his country is prepared for this. He is confident that they will be able to come out on the other side.

And at this point I want to remind viewers you can send videos or images of the quake, some of the aftershocks, or if you're around the world experiencing the impending tsunami, send that into CNN iReport at CNN.com.

Viewers can also send me tweets on Twitter.com/Errol@CNN. Another thing we are trying to do is establish a looking for loved ones page. I've been tweeting all links to this as well for viewers. A lot of people have questions around the world. You really get a sense how massive and widespread of an event this is when you see the interest really from just about every continent.

So we'll continue to track all of these online developments, people doing what they can, using their small bits of technology to connect the dots and help people around the world as they deal with the aftermath of the quake and the impending tsunami. So we'll track this from the newsroom and bring you updates as they become available.

MANN: Errol Barnett monitoring the social network sites, learning a lot for us, thanks very much.

Preparing for the worst case -- evacuations are under way across the Pacific and Pacific area after a great earthquake strikes Chile. We'll keep bringing you the latest on the breaking news. You're watching CNN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SESAY: Hello, everyone. You are watching CNN live coverage of the earthquake in Chile. Here is what we know right now. At least 147 people were killed in the 8.8 magnitude quake. It struck just 100 kilometers from Concepcion, Chile, right around 3:30 in the morning, when, as you'd expect, many people were asleep in their beds.

Dozens of aftershocks have rattled the area, hitting as far away as Argentina.

Right now here is the situation on the ground as we know it. There is no power, no water, and no telephone service in Chile's capital of Santiago. The airport, let me tell you what's happening there, it is also out of commission for at least the next 24 hours.

The earthquake has triggered tsunami warnings all across the Pacific Ocean. You're looking at pictures of the scale of the destruction there on the ground in Chile. But talking about those tsunami warnings, the provincial governor of Chile's Juan Fernandez Island says a massive wave struck just hours ago killing at least three people.

Hawaii is bracing for a possible tsunami less than two hours from now. CNN is fully across this story for you.

MANN: And across the island chain, Hawaiians are hoping for the best but preparing for the worst. We are talking about two hours from now, in fact an hour and a half when the first waves are expected to hit.

These people were out before dawn. They are getting their supplies. Some businesses are closing now though because of the tsunami warning. Schools and parks and harbors, in particular, are closing in Hilo, which is expected to be, because of the geography of Hawaii, really hard hit when the water comes ashore. They are closing Hilo International Airport.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARBARA HETH, ALA MOANA RESIDENT: I'm fairly concerned. And I just want to be prepared. I don't want to have to be coming to the store here at 10:00 this morning because it's supposed to -- we are supposed to start feeling the impact about 12:00 noon or so. So I always try to be prepared.

GERALD BOLOSAN, ALA MOANA RESIDENT: I mean, if a tsunami is coming, we have to move. So it's not so bad right now, but I predict this place is going to look like black Friday any time soon.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MANN: Let me correct myself. It's Hilo we are talking about in Hawaii. I imagine we'll be talking about it a good deal in the hours to come.

But let's talk about Santiago, Chile, where all of this began. Chile's earthquake, the 8.8 magnitude quake that set off the tsunami. American student Luke Mescher is in Santiago, Chile, and joins us, or was on the line with his parents in Iowa when all of this happened. He joins us now.

Tell us about that. You were up, awake, and you were talking on the phone?

LUKE MESCHER, EXPERIENCED QUAKE IN CHILE: Yes. Actually, I just finished the conversation about 20 minutes prior with my parents, but I was still communicating with a couple other friends, and all of a sudden the connection dropped. I thought that was kind of strange, and the power went out. And 30 seconds later the windows and walls were shaking.

MANN: You seem pretty cheerful about it now. What was it like then? What was going through your mind?

MESCHER: Obviously a couple of things. First I really didn't know what was going on. I thought, what is this? And then it was pretty evident within a matter of seconds what was going on. I was like, oh, my God, this is an earthquake. I am way up here in an apartment complex. I need to get out of this building as fast as I can.

MANN: What did you do?

MESCHER: I live with a host family, and both my host mom and my host sister were here at the time. They were already out of their rooms and kind of yelling and they were just paralyzed with fear.

And I grabbed my head lamp because it was completely dark in here, and said we have to go. We have to go now. We ran out the door. And I insisted we just leave right now and start heading down stairs to get outside. And I didn't have any shirt or shoes on. Obviously, that was the last of my concerns at the moment.

MANN: You had a head lamp. That's pretty amazing you were that prepared. Did you trust the elevator at that point? Did you jump down the stairs?

MESCHER: No, no, we did not take the elevator. We went down the stairs, for sure, which was challenging, because my host mom is a little bit older and not so quick. And part of me wanted to say, you know what, I'm getting out of here. But obviously, I stuck with them and we got down to the bottom and everything was OK.

But there were immediate aftershocks, and plenty of other residents -- this is a big, 20-story apartment complex, which is common here in Santiago. So that was our main concern not being underneath the 20 stories above me.

MANN: You're back inside now. Have things returned to normal around you?

MESCHER: No. I think it will be a good while before they are close to normal.

Within my own apartment and the area of the city I live in, they are relatively normal. It's kind of an eerie, strange quiet out here right now. A lot of the supermarkets have already closed, actually, for one reason or another.

I'm lucky enough to be in an area of the city where we actually do have running water. And at the time we have electricity. It's coming on a couple of times. But there definitely are parts of Santiago, the downtown area and more historical districts that apparently are still without water.

MANN: We have heard about dozens of aftershocks. Have you been feeling them?

MESCHER: Oh, yes. Probably not more than about maybe every 40 minutes or so we'll just feel a slight wobbling. I've been using my glass of water to verify it's not just in my mind because you can see the water actually wobbling back and forth every time it happens.

MANN: Do you get a sense authorities there have the situation under control? Is help getting out? Can you see police and emergency vehicles on the streets? Are people around you getting the reassurance they need?

MESCHER: Yes. I think here in Santiago, which I think is probably a different scenario from more where the epicenter was down in Concepcion, I think that things are in a much -- from what I can see in the local news coverage and just talking to my host family who have lots of relatives and friends spread throughout Chile, things are in certainly worst shape further south from here and they are not nearly as prepared.

But the streets here are relatively more open, free of congestion. I do certainly see emergency vehicles making their way back and forth periodically.

MANN: Let me ask you one quick question. You were talking to your parents before the earthquake struck. I don't know if you've had a chance to talk to them since. Is there any message you want to send them now?

MESCHER: Thankfully, I did get a chance to briefly connect with them before my Skype dropped again this morning. They were extremely worried, obviously. But just the message is I feel extremely, you know, thankful and lucky to be safe and fine, and I hope that everyone else out there can locate who they are looking for.

MANN: You've come through in good shape and good cheer. Luke Mescher, thanks for talking with us.

MESCHER: Thanks.

SESAY: He certainly is in good cheer, and good to see that under such difficult circumstances.

Carolina Escobar now we're going to speak to. She was born in Chile and lived there for years before she came to work with us here at CNN. She joins us now with some perspective on what's going on.

Carolina, great to speak to you to get your insight. I don't know whether you've been able to connect with friends, family to get a sense of what's going on on the ground. What can you tell us?

CAROLINA ESCOBAR, CNN EN ESPANOL CORRESPONDENT: Actually this morning around 5:00 a.m. I got a beeper with CNN Espanol. I've been trying to reach my mother and family. And they heard me and called me back. Up until now, it's very, very difficult to get in touch with Chile, but on the other hand, they have been able to call us or call outside of the country. So yes, in that sense, my family is all fine.

SESAY: I'm pleased to hear that. Have they been able to give you a sense of the damage around them, what they are seeing?

ESCOBAR: Actually, around them, the situation is not that bad. It's like what we are hearing right now. It's some calm. The situation seems to be more or less under control in Santiago.

I know Concepcion is way worse. Talca, another city 250 kilometers from Santiago, they are suffering a lot, especially because those are older cities with very proud construction, but very old, too, a lot of history there, but a lot of damage too because of that, of course.

SESAY: We are getting really a sense Santiago has quite an efficient system that kicked into gear. You mentioned Concepcion and Talca. What is your sense of local infrastructure, the local officials there and how they are dealing with it at this time just knowing Chile as do you?

ESCOBAR: I think the whole country, and the people, too, we are born in a country where you feel earthquakes since you are very young. You get emergency drills at school very often. So you more or less know what to do, where to look at, and where to go if there is a earthquake.

Of course, not this big of an earthquake. In a situation like this, and especially during the night, it's very hard for people to react and do the right thing sometimes.

I just think that it's not a lack of infrastructure or construction towards Concepcion or Talca. It's just a matter of being close to the epicenter and that is what is worse for them.

SESAY: All right, Carolina, I'm so pleased you were able to make contact with your family in Chile and able to get a sense of how they are doing. Thank you for joining us and just giving us some perspective of the situation on the ground. We appreciate it.

MANN: Our eyes are on Chile, our eyes are across the Pacific as well in Hawaii and points in between as the earthquake sets off a tsunami that is still being felt. The water is still washing up and the devastation in Chile is still being reckoned with.

SESAY: Indeed, keep it right here at CNN.

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(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MAURICIO HERNANDEZ, EARTHQUAKE WITNESS: If I can say this, I almost peed in my pants. We lost electricity power. We couldn't see anything, but the TV, the walls, everything was moving everywhere.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MANN: Mauricio Hernandez, who has a way with words, and who came through all right, though, as he said, he was terrified when it happened. It was a very big quake, one of the biggest ever recorded.

Let's get some perspective on that from meteorologist Jacqui Jeras with our sister network CNN USA. She's joined by Kurt Frankel, a professor of earth and atmospheric sciences at Georgia Tech. Good to see you both.

Tell us what you can. This is an extraordinary seismic event.

JACQUI JERAS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Absolutely. An 8.8, this is almost as bad as it gets in terms of extreme situations.

There are a few factors which made this a better case scenario than what it could have been. And part of that has to do with the fact the main epicenter was offshore and away from the most populated areas.

This is our Google Earth animation. We are going to go down and show you. There you can see that was the 8.8 where it hit. That was about three miles away from shore.

And as we look across this area, you can see nobody lives here. It is very unpopulated. There you can see a couple of houses in the area. Here are a few more people in one of the villages that live up there. Santiago is well up to the north where most of the people live. The damage could have been so much worse.

Now we are going to take you towards Haiti and talk about that one. That was the one that was a 7.0 magnitude, and that occurred right about in here. There you can see how close that was to Port-au- Prince where millions of people live and the capital, certainly, of Haiti.

And Dr. Frankel here with us. And let's talk a little bit about some of the differences between these two quakes. This is the one in Haiti, showing you a good portion of the population in here experienced the worst and the most violent of shaking.

And while we talk over here about what happened today in Chile, there you can see zero people felt the most extreme and the most violent. Talk a little bit about the differences here.

KURT FRANKEL, EARTH AND ATMOSPHERIC SCIENCE PROFESSOR: Port-au- Prince is built on this sort of delta area, a lot of unconsolidated sand and gravel and loose material. When that starts to shake in an earthquake, the seismic waves get trapped in that area.

So there are similar sediments at the coast in Chile, but not many people live there. And so as you move closer to the Andes, you can build more onto bedrock, and seismic waves pass through there more easily and there is much less shaking on solid bedrock.

The other difference is that in Haiti, the earthquake was very shallow. About 10 kilometers depth, and it's much deeper, maybe 35 kilometers, the depth is uncertain at this time, but certainly deeper and offshore, like you said.

JERAS: Right, and the closer to the surface where the quake happens, the more violent shaking that you are going to be experiencing. So it wasn't quite as deep from what happened for today.

We'll talk a little bit about the tsunami and that threat. That is something way will be dealing with here in hours to come. We know there have been a number of reports in tsunamis, the worst of which in Chile where almost eight feet of water was reported coming in. Where are the areas here we are going to be concerned about in the upcoming hours?

FRANKEL: Certainly Hawaii is preparing for the tsunami now. And NOAA is estimating one and a half to seven feet in terms of the height of wave there. It depends on the shape of the coastline how much it will be affected by those waves.

JERAS: Right. And one to seven feet is something people need to take seriously. Only a foot or two feet of water could knock you off your feet.

FRANKEL: Right. Of course, if it's only a couple of feet above sea level at the coastline, it can be a long distance onshore.

JERAS: OK. Let's talk a little bit about aftershocks. There have been dozens and dozens, I think at least 40 aftershocks we've seen in this area. How long can we expect these to last, and how strong?

FRANKEL: These will go on for days and weeks following the earthquake, but they'll decrease as a function of the time since the earthquake, and the magnitude of them will decrease, as well. And so we should expect maybe ten magnitude 6.0s, 100 magnitude 5.0s, and so forth, but the frequency of those will drop off over time.

JERAS: In the last couple of house we still have been seeing a lot of these 5.0s. How significant are the 5.0s and what should people living in these areas do to protect themselves?

FRANKEL: They should take the normal precautions they would for any earthquake, just stay out of brick buildings, things like that. But 5.0s are not going to do too much more damage, a 5.0 is not a terribly big earthquake. I think they are probably out of real danger at this point.

JERAS: Let's talk about historic perception. This is top 10 strongest quake we've ever had recorded?

FRANKEL: Yes. It really shouldn't be surprised that this occurred here. In 1922 we had a large earthquake about this size of this one, and in 1964 was the largest ever recorded, a 9.5. Those happened to the north and to the south of this segment, so this segment of the fault did not rupture in those, and so this was maybe primed and ready to go as a result of those earthquakes, and now it has ruptured.

JERAS: In the coming hour, Hawaii might see the first waves which begin to move in with the tsunami. You were talking about the historic quakes in those areas. Was it the 1960 quake generated the tsunami, both of them did, which impacted Hawaii. What can you tell us about that?

FRANKEL: It impacted Hawaii and went into Hilo harbor and destroyed a lot of boats and infrastructure there. In both cases they had a large effect on Hawaii. So Hawaii, they sort of know what to do as a result of their previous experience, and so they will probably handle this pretty well.

JERAS: We'll be watching it very closely as we get into those upcoming hours and watch for more sea height rises potentially in Hawaii. Jonathan, back to you.

MANN: Jacqui Jeras with Dr. Kurt Frankel, thanks so much.

There is so much to learn about this, and it's all extraordinary stuff.

SESAY: Absolutely. No doubt about it. You heard from Kurt Frankel there giving us more perspective historically on what we're seeing there.

Let's recap some of what he had to say there, because we want to bring some of the worst earthquakes in modern times. Just last month you'll remember, because you saw the pictures, a magnitude 7.0 earthquake struck Haiti, killing at least 222,000 people. And that toll continues to rise.

The 1976 quake in Tangshan, children, that killed at least 250,000 people. The initial quake and huge aftershocks 16 hours later, those both measured 7.8 on the Richter scale.

The 2004 tsunami was triggered by a massive 9.2. magnitude quake. That struck off the coast of Sumatra. Nearly 228,000 people in south Asia were killed as a result. And more than 87,000 people killed in the 2008 quake of Sichuan, China. That was 7.9, and it left millions homeless and it caused an estimated $86 billion worth of damage.

Then in 2005, a massive quake in northern Pakistan and India. That killed 79,000 people and it left millions more homeless. When you bear in mind the numbers dead and we are talking 8.8, and right now the death toll we're getting at this point in time, 147.

MANN: That is why we are treading so carefully, because the number, frankly, seems out of proportion to the damage we've seen and the measurement that scientists have made of the quake that caused all the destruction -- 8.8, one of the worst earthquakes ever recorded.

And so far casualty figures, dreadful as they are, are still less than 200 compared to the tens of thousands, the hundreds of thousands we've seen in comparable situations. We are following this story closely, but clearly, we haven't gotten to the bottom of what this quake has done.

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MANN: One witness said simply that the earth opened up. We'll bring you the latest developments in our continuing coverage of the earthquake that struck Chile, a magnitude 8.8 quake that struck in the middle of the night. At least 147 have been killed when the quake struck, its epicenter off the coast of the center of the country.

Buildings have collapsed, roads and bridges have been destroyed, and there have been power and water outages all through the country. The quake triggered a tsunami warning for essentially the entire Pacific region including Hawaii.

SESAY: Just hours ago -- we are going to get more reaction to the story. Let's get some reaction from Chile's Olympic athletes, who woke up to find out about the devastating quake that struck back home. Let's go to our Mark McKay, who is standing by for us live in Vancouver. Mark, what are you hearing? How are they holding up?

MARK MCKAY, CNN INTERNATIONAL SPORTS CORRESPONDENT: Chile has three representatives here at the Olympic Winter Games in Vancouver, some nations, huge contingents, like the United States, Germany, Norway, some nations sending just one athlete. Chile with three of their athletes represented here at the Vancouver games. All three are alpine skiers. All finished their competitions so they will not be missing any event.

But according to the Chilean team spokesperson that all three athletes and their coaches are planning to miss Sunday's closing ceremony hoping, hoping, trying their best to leave Vancouver to get back to their homeland.

Of course, Isha, that could be easier said than done not knowing the condition of the airports that they would be heading into at Vancouver. But at the moment, the three representative of Chile at the Vancouver games are planning on missing Sunday's closing ceremony.

SESAY: And Mark, has the IOC put out any statement about this as to any kind of assistance they are giving them during this difficult time?

MCKAY: We do not know the International Olympic Committee has not officially spoken to this tragedy that continues to unfold in the South American nation. We will be watching from the main press center, but as of now, no, Isha, the IOC has not reacted to today's events.

SESAY: How much is this impacting the games, if at all? I would imagine the spectators are still taking in the games. And the closing ceremony is on Sunday.

MCKAY: It's a mix of taking in the games and taking in the breaking news. Anyone with a connection to Chile or any of the surrounding countries certainly keeping tabs on the news coming out of the homeland, stopping by restaurants and any kind of bars that would have televisions on.

Yes, the games do continue. Yes the games are on television. But there is a sense also of splitting attention between what's going on here and what's going on in that South American nation, especially for those directly affected, Isha.

SESAY: Indeed. Our Mark McKay joining us from Vancouver. We'll continue to monitor any statements coming from the Chilean Olympic squad. Three athletes are there. All have finished. All are Alpine skiers, and as Mark pointed out, they are all planning to miss Sunday's closing ceremony if indeed they can get out of Vancouver and head back to Chile, where, as we know, the airport is closed at this time. John?

MANN: We are seeing more of the latest pictures, the sense of the devastation and people trying to make their way through the damaged cities and literally a changed landscape after the 8.8 magnitude quake that struck Chile overnight.

We know at least 147 people are dead, but the government has been very clear it simply doesn't know the extent of the destruction. It doesn't know the extent of the deaths. It is counting, it is surveying the situation, and it's trying to reach the areas that are still cut off.

SESAY: Much more about this massive earthquake and the threatening tsunamis right after the break.

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