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A deafening roar -- then tsunami swallowed up the village

The Chilean seaside resort of Pelluhue was transformed into a sandy wasteland without warning -- one giant wave, then another, then scores of homes disappeared.

world Updated: Mar 02, 2010 21:55 IST

The Chilean seaside resort of Pelluhue was transformed into a sandy wasteland without warning -- one giant wave, then another, then scores of homes disappeared.

The further Chilean emergency services go after the huge earthquake that sparked a twin tsunami, the more grim discoveries they make.

"This part was full of houses. There were more than 100," said Silvia Aparicio, a community leader, pointing to the Pelluhue beachfront.

"And that's nothing compared to what happened in the Marisquero," she added of a nearby district named after the shell fisherman who once lived here.

Many tourists were asleep in their beds when the deafening roar came from nowhere.

"There was no warning. The waves surged in 40 minutes after the earthquake which took place at 3:25am," said Aparicio, who lives at the top of the town.

"There were two, then a bigger one. The sound was deafening," she said.

Three days after the quake, Pelluhue, some 300 kilometres (185 miles) from Santiago, remains a scene of desolation and sorrow.

Fallen tree trunks barring a road testify to the fury of the tsunami that firefighters say swept away several hundred houses in all along the coast.

So far, rescue workers have counted 57 dead in Pelluhue and another 28 in nearby Curenipe, both close to the epicentre of the quake said to have killed more than 720 people in all.

Another 46 bodies have been found in the region and an unknown number are missing, said senior firefighter Wagner Alvear Flores.

Most are Chilean tourists who flocked to this village of farmers and fishermen to spend their summer holidays. Many slept when the tsunami barrelled in.

Nearby, four men loaded up a truck with some chairs, a push-chair, a bed frame, a few pieces of furniture left from their vacation home, one of the few ocean-front houses to survive.

"We're returning to Curico (roughly 150 kilometres away). We cannot remain here," said Oscar Henriquez.

A police car drove past behind him, blasting a warning to residents by loudspeaker: "Curfew at 9:00 pm!"

"Soldiers came here yesterday to maintain order since there have been a lot of robberies," Aparicio said.

The first aid shipment also arrived Monday, but the town remains without water and electricity. The supermarket is closed because there is nothing left to sell.

Some people have opted to camp on the town heights. All face a long night ahead. "I'm very scared," Aparicio said, "because the aftershocks are stronger during the night."