An earthquake in remote southern Chile shook free a landslide of rocks, sending them smashing into a narrow fjord and causing massive 25-foot waves that swept away 10 beachgoers. Three bodies were recovered Sunday.
Rescuers were searching the cold Pacific waters for the other missing people from the beach after the 6.2 magnitude quake the day before, authorities said.
Oscar Catalan, the mayor of the nearby town of Puerto Aysen, saw six people at the shore pulled away by the current, according to the Chilean newspaper El Mercurio.
A correspondent for television network Chilevision, Orlando Adriazola, also reported seeing a man and his young daughter dragged into the water by a large wave. He said he was at the beach to install an antenna for his station.
The government’s Emergency Bureau said three bodies were found washed up on beaches in the fjord on Sunday. The victims were identified as Ernesto Contreras, 65; his wife, Elsa Poblete, 54, and their 2-year-old grandson Genaro Linay, the agency said.
The bureau said there was no tsunami after the earthquake. The waves were apparently created when several landslides from neighboring hills crashed into the sea at the bottom of the narrow fjord, causing the water level to rise steeply, said Juan Cayupi, a volcanologist investigating the incident for the government.
The inlet is surrounded by high hills, parts of which are covered with a dense forest. At some points, the land drops off into rocky cliffs that fall vertically into the water.
“There were some boats in the area and waves destroyed them,” said Cayupi, who was also at the beach at the time of the quake and spoke to The Associated Press by telephone. “The boat we arrived in was thrown on top of a tree, partly destroyed.”
Television footage showed roaring, white-capped waves in the ocean following the quake. Large trees on the coast were uprooted and dragged into the water.
The Emergency Bureau said rescue patrols including military and police personnel, started searching for the missing people early Sunday. Helicopters scanned the surf from the air.
Police Maj. Claudio Escobar said the search would continue “until everybody has been found.”
Meanwhile, President Michele Bachelet arrived Sunday and was met by protests from angry residents who say the government has been slow to offer assistance following several months of seismic activity in the region.
The quake hit early Saturday afternoon, sending many people into the streets in panic in Puerto Aysen and nearby Puerto Chacabuco, which have a combined population of 35,000. The quake was centered about 35 miles northwest of the city of Coihaique, the U.S. Geological Survey reported.
There was no major damage to buildings, but scores of panicked people sought treatment at hospitals for nervous conditions, regional Gov. Viviana Betancourt said.
Saturday’s quake was the strongest of hundreds of quakes that have been felt in the area since Jan. 22. Authorities believe the seismic activity is related to the formation of a new undersea volcano.
On Sunday, a moderate earthquake shook Santiago in central Chile, with no immediate reports of damages or injuries. The 5.2-magnitude quake was centered about 80 miles northwest of Santiago, USGS said.