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Thousands of Chileans homeless after quake, mayor says

  • Story Highlights
  • NEW: Tocopilla mayor: More than 1,200 homes flattened, shelters damaged
  • Dozens of workers freed from collapsed roadway tunnel, officials say
  • Chilean Navy is moving heavy equipment into the area to help with rescue
  • 7.7 quake north of Tocopilla happened at 12:40 p.m. (10:40 a.m. ET)
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(CNN) -- Thousands of Chileans may have to sleep in the streets Wednesday night after a 7.7 magnitude earthquake rattled the north part of the country, killing at least two people, injuring dozens and destroying hundreds of homes.

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Valentina Bustos shot this photo Wednesday of earthquake damage at a hotel in Antofagasta, Chile.

"There are more than a thousand, 1,200 houses, at least, that were totally flattened, and others in bad shape," Tocopilla Mayor Luis Moyano said in an interview that aired on Radio Cooperativo.

Tocopilla, Chile, north of Santiago, is about 35 km (21 miles) from the quake's epicenter.

"Tonight, people are going to have to sleep in the street, because there are a great number of houses that are uninhabitable," said Moyano.

Places that could be used as shelters, such as schools and gyms, were damaged in the quake, the mayor said. Moyano put the number of people without shelter at 4,000.

Tocopilla's population is 24,000.

Moyano described going through the damaged city and running into people asking, "Mayor, my house collapsed. What do I do? Mayor, I don't have water. What do I do?"

"It gets to you," he said.

Paula Saez with the aid organization World Vision told CNN she was on a treacherous drive attempting to reach Tocopilla.

"There's no electricity and there's a lot of landslides" covering the road in spots, she said, and the highway was spotted with holes.

Once in Tocopilla, Saez said, she was prepared to offer tents, blankets and medicine to citizens and assess additional needs.

The government's Office of National Emergency reported that two women had died and others were injured in the city. Officials identified one of those killed as 54-year-old Olga Petronila Ortiz Cisternas. The other fatality was an 88-year-old woman. Video Watch what a 7.7 earthquake can do »

Municipal official Ljubica Ukurtovic, in an interview with Chilean TV station TVN, said that "approximately 100 people" had sought treatment at a Tocopilla hospital.

The quake collapsed a roadway tunnel, temporarily trapping about 50 construction workers. See where the quake struck »

High-level government sources said the workers had been rescued.

Repair work on the 793-meter (2,600-foot) Pedro Galleguillos tunnel, completed in 1994, began on October 1 and was to be finished early next year.

Tocopilla is about 1,245 km (780 miles) north of Santiago and the quake was felt in Peru and Bolivia, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

The temblor was centered at a depth of 60 km (37 miles), the USGS said.

A tsunami warning was issued for the South Pacific coast after the quake hit, but was canceled within an hour.

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Chile has been the scene of hundreds of strong earthquakes throughout history, including the largest one of the 20th century on May 22, 1960. The quake that struck southern Chile that day registered a magnitude 9.5 and launched a tsunami that caused damage as far away as Hawaii, Japan and the Philippines.

Nearly 6,000 people died as a result of the quake and its tsunami. A magnitude 7.8 earthquake that struck southern Chile on January 25, 1939, killed 28,000 people. A magnitude 9.0 earthquake in what was then southern Peru but is now northern Chile killed 25,000 people in 1868. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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