Archive | February, 2010

Do Dissident Republican Paramilitary Groups Represent A New Terrorist Threat On The Island Of Ireland ?

28 Feb

HOW BIG IS THE THREAT FROM DISSIDENT REPUBLICANS?

A cluster of incidents in the North this week bears out warnings that once-diffuse dissident republican groups are organising, cooperating, and attracting new recruits, writes DAN KEENAN, Northern News Editor the Irish Times.

IT HAS BEEN a stark week. Dissident republicans opposed to the peace process have, in the course of a few days, murdered Derry man Ciaran Doherty, launched a bomb attack on Newry courthouse and narrowly failed to fire mortars at Keady police station in Co Armagh.

The Newry bomb was the first dissident explosion since the BBC in London was attacked in 2001 and the first anywhere in the North since Omagh in 1998, in which 29 people, including a woman pregnant with twins, were murdered.

The current upsurge seems as sudden as it is alarming, but the warnings have been clear for a while. The British and Irish governments’ paramilitary watchdog, the Independent Monitoring Commission, has been spelling out the dangers since 2006.

Dissident groups are attracting young and angry men with only second-hand recollections of the Troubles. But they are now lining up alongside some older and more experienced paramilitary figures.

They are deeply involved in underworld activities, including tobacco smuggling and fuel laundering, which are extremely lucrative. Their paramilitary capabilities, meanwhile, are improving to the point where they pose a growing threat to the shaky political institutions designed to stabilise the North’s uneasy peace.

Dissidents – not a term they would use about themselves – claim they are following a long-established tradition of physical-force opposition to British rule in Ireland. They see constitutionalism and power-sharing by the parties at Stormont as counter-revolutionary and as a de-facto acceptance of partition and the “British presence” in Ireland.

Consequently, they are also violently opposed to the republican leadership of Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness. It is no accident that this week’s violence follows the deal hammered out in Hillsborough earlier this month to transfer control of policing and justice to Stormont.

Under the tight timetable agreed between Sinn Féin and the DUP at Hillsborough, a justice minister will be selected by the Assembly on March 9th and powers will be transferred from London on April 12th, safely ahead of the British general election expected in May. The dissidents have picked their time carefully.

Last November, it was confirmed that inexperienced recruits were joining dissident groups, primarily the Real IRA, which split from the Provisionals in the wake of the ceasefires. At the same time, however, it was also established that, apart from this worrying development, there was a more sinister trend developing. Former republican paramilitary figures were, on an individual basis, lending support to the dissident campaign, thus adding a potent ingredient to the mix.

The Newry bomb could be the latest and most graphic example of this. It is believed that the 250lb bomb may have been constructed by the same individual who built the Omagh bomb, a factor which, if confirmed, would illustrate the links between the latest campaign of violence and the conflict of the 1990s.

Neither the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) nor the Garda Síochána have commented on this claim, but if it is true it would mean that the bombing of Newry is not an isolated incident but the latest in a long line of deadly attacks involving this person.

These include the 1985 mortar attack on Newry police station (in which nine people died), the murder of a south Co Down businessman in 1990 and a range of other bombings in Northern town centres in 1998, including Omagh, the worst single atrocity of the Troubles.

It had been thought that dissident groups were poorly organised and equipped, split into factions and lacking paramilitary expertise. Sir Hugh Orde, the former PSNI chief constable, had called in a specialist group of British army intelligence officers and it was claimed that cells of dissidents had been well infiltrated.

There was evidence enough to support this claim, including a string of intercepted or failed bombing attempts. A large device, thought to have been destined for Ballykinler army base in Co Down, was abandoned by the bombers and subsequently defused.

But it is now evident that the level of threat is rising, that skills are improving and that young recruits, motivated in part by a perception that Stormont politics is not delivering, are being attracted to the dissident cause.

THE INTELLIGENCE PICTURE is complicated, showing a range of groups with different origins. The situation is now understood to be fluid, with ad-hoc arrangements and flexible co-operation between dissident groups right across Ireland.

The oldest of these groups is the Continuity IRA (CIRA), formed following the decision by Sinn Féin to accept the legitimacy of Leinster House in the 1980s. It holds to the idea that no parliament or assembly in either Dublin or Belfast carries any legitimacy.

The CIRA suddenly re-emerged in 1996 with a bombing attack in Fermanagh. Responsible for serious criminal activity, including so-called “Tiger kidnappings” and smuggling, and for recent acts of violence, it claimed responsibility for the murder of PSNI officer Stephen Carroll in Craigavon, Co Armagh last March.

It has also been linked to the deployment last year of an elaborate hoax explosive device in Co Fermanagh, designed to lure police officers into the area so that they could be attacked. It is thought that the group may also have had a connection with another bombing attempt in Armagh and the discovery of bomb-making materials and other weapons in Belfast.

The Real IRA, which claimed it shot dead Ciaran Doherty in Derry this week, is more prominent and is believed to be attracting most of the new recruits. It is divided between two clearly identifiable factions and was responsible for the murders of two British soldiers at Massereene army barracks in Antrim last March. Four others, including a pizza delivery man, were seriously injured. The organisation has warned the public not to supply police or army bases with services.

Despite a belief that the Real IRA does not have a significant base in Belfast, it is being held responsible for orchestrating serious violence in the Ardoyne area of the city on July 12th last, when at least one shot was fired at police lines. This incident was of particular concern, as it showed the dissidents’ ability to attract young people on to the streets to confront the PSNI and to make Sinn Féin appear inept in its attempts to maintain calm in the area.

The Real IRA has also been held responsible for a series of some 30 hijackings, hoax-bomb attacks and other street violence in Craigavon last year. In some of these incidents drivers were told that bombs had been placed in their vehicles and that they should drive them to police stations.

Last August, Real IRA members staged a show of strength in Meigh, near the Border between counties Armagh and Louth. They set up a road-block, displayed a range of weapons (including a rocket-launcher) and handed out leaflets to the public, warning them not to have anything to do with either the PSNI or the Garda.

The organisation has said it intends to mount a paramilitary attack somewhere in Britain when it is opportune to do so.

There is also concern at the emergence of a group calling itself Óglaigh Na hÉireann, the same name used by the Provisional IRA and the Republic’s Defence Forces.

This is a small and highly localised grouping based in the Strabane area of Co Tyrone. But there are now fears that the title is also being used by members of either the Continuity IRA or the Real IRA when there is some form of co-operation or joint activity.

Added to the mix is the re-emergence of small groups, usually describing themselves as anti-drug vigilante organisations, who are committed to fighting anti-social behaviour and drug-dealing in parts of Derry and Belfast.

Confusingly, the strengthening of the dissidents has coincided with the confirmation by the Gen John de Chastelain’s Independent International Commission on Decommissioning that the INLA has put its weapons beyond use and is now committed to the political path.

The INLA was once among the most fanatical of republican paramilitary groupings and was responsible for around 125 deaths throughout the Troubles. Why it would opt to end its violence formally and get rid of its weapons at a time when dissident groupings are stepping up their offensives is unclear.

The murders of two soldiers and a PSNI officer last March prompted one of the most remarkable political events of last year. Martin McGuinness, himself a former IRA commander, appeared alongside a British chief constable and the leader of unionism to condemn the violence and to denounce those responsible as “traitors”. The violence of the past week saw another such act of political defiance, by First Minister Peter Robinson and Deputy First Minister McGuinness at Stormont.

The DUP leader insisted that those at the head of the new political arrangements would not be beaten by the dissidents. He condemned them for offering only fear in response to the hope raised by the political co-operation between unionists and republicans. McGuinness called on those supportive of the murder in Derry this week to justify, to the public’s satisfaction, why Ciaran Doherty had been stripped, bound and shot in the head.

Relations between the DUP and Sinn Féin in the Stormont Executive have been openly difficult since devolution was restored in 2007. But the threat both parties face from the dissidents at this most politically sensitive time has emerged as a powerful incentive for them to make common cause.

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UPDATE:

THE REAL IRA and Continuity IRA have successfully pooled their resources and the threat posed by their co-operation is now as serious as that from any terrorist group during the height of the Troubles, Minister for Justice Dermot Ahern has said.

He added the 250lb car bomb that exploded outside Newry courthouse last Monday night reflected a new level of sophistication among dissident republicans.

“There seems to be an effort in recent months to bring them closer together,” Mr Ahern said yesterday of the Real IRA and Continuity IRA.

“There seems to be cross-fertilisation; it may be more to do with acquaintances or family membership than ideology. But nonetheless it is a more worrying trend because clearly their capability is growing.”

While the two main groups were co-operating it also appeared a wider dissident coalition was emerging. This included a number of small splinter groups and a handful of republicans who had up until recently been committed to the political process.

Mr Ahern said the Real IRA and Continuity IRA both have “significant pockets” of membership in the Republic. However, the terrorist attacks witnessed in the North in recent months appeared to have been organised there.

“The threat here I believe on this island is as dangerous as it was at any time during the Troubles,” said Mr Ahern

The authorities faced a “conundrum” in responding firmly to the growing threat in a way that would not alienate some sections of the nationalist community in the North. “What are really at is to try and bring back troops on to the streets of Northern Ireland and to destabilise the efforts of political parties in the North to bring final peace.”

He declined to say if he believed the dissident groups were not far from having the capability of staging an attack with major loss of life. However, he said the co-operation between the Garda and PSNI in fighting terrorism was stronger than ever.

Mr Ahern was speaking in the aftermath of a number of high-profile terrorist incidents.

The attack on Monday night in Newry was the first dissident explosion since the BBC in London was attacked in 2001 and the first anywhere in the North since Omagh in 1998A suspected mortar was fired at a PSNI station in Craigavon on Saturday night.

Last week 31-year-old Kieran Doherty was found shot dead just outside Derry City. His murder has been claimed by the Real IRA.

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UPDATE:

Supergrasses – cost of betrayal

Two UVF members from north Belfast, David and Robert Stewart, have pledged to give evidence against nine men in what promises to be the biggest "supergrass" trial in a generation. BBC News Online looks back at previous cases.

The term "supergrass" rose to prominence in Northern Ireland during the early 1980s.

They were informers, or suspects, prepared to testify in court against their alleged ex-comrades in return for rewards such as immunity from prosecution, lenient sentences, and new identities.

The trials in Northern Ireland in which they featured were some of the largest ever conducted in the UK, with the evidence of a single witness being enough to convict dozens of accused.

The practice became discredited when doubts began to be raised as to whether they were reliable witnesses.

In one 1983 supergrass trial, 22 IRA members were given jail terms totalling 4,000 years.

They were convicted largely on the evidence of Christopher Black, who was granted immunity from prosecution and is thought to have fled abroad after the trial.

UNDERWORLD TERM
The term grass comes from the lexicon of the London criminal underworld of the 1930s, to refer to an informer.

The first supergrass was Bertie Smalls in 1973.

The leading member of a gang of London bank robbers after being arrested he offered to help the police by naming his accomplices in return for his liberty. His evidence resulted in 16 convictions.

More recently Darren Mathurin became Britain’s first black supergrass with the second trial he testified at ending recently at the Old Bailey.

The 29-year-old drug dealer, with the street name Spider, from the Stonebridge estate in London, has testified at two trials and has had a murder tariff reduced from 22 to eight years.

Eighteen of those convicted on Black’s evidence had their convictions quashed three years later.

The IRA trial followed another case involving members of the loyalist Ulster Volunteer Force.

Key evidence in that trial came from Joseph Bennett, who was also granted immunity, which led to 14 men being imprisoned – two for life terms.

Christopher Black and Joseph Bennett were among about 30 former paramilitaries who turned informant and their evidence led to more than 300 convictions.

They also included Raymond Gilmour from Londonderry, who was in the INLA and the IRA. When he decided to testify it led to the arrest of about 100 republicans in the city, 35 of who were charged with terrorist offences.

The case collapsed when the then Lord Chief Justice dismissed his evidence as being "unworthy of belief".

Three years ago he appealed to be allowed to return to Derry.

But for Supergrasses there can be little chance of going back, those who work for the authorities or are suspected of being agents still face extreme dangers.

In an interview with the Sunday Tribune in 2009 the Real IRA named five men they wanted to kill, two of them were Christopher Black and Raymond Gilmour.

The last supergrass trial was in 1985, when 25 members of the INLA were jailed on the evidence of Harry Kirkpatrick.

By December 1986, 24 of them would have their convictions overturned.

For the security services the trials removed suspected terrorists from the community, albeit in most cases only for a short time.

But they raised serious concerns about how justice in Northern Ireland operated, with the Earl of Longford commenting in one debate in the House of Lords: "You cannot cast out Beelzebub by Beelzebub."

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International Alert: Sussex Police Appeal Over Mystery Man Found On Brighton Beach

28 Feb

UK: BRIGHTON POLICE APPEAL OVER MYSTERY MAN FOUND ON BEACH:

A smartly-dressed man who was found unconscious and freezing cold on a Brighton beach apparently has no idea who he is or where he comes from.

Police have launched an urgent nationwide appeal for help to solve the mystery.

The man, in his late 20s or early 30s, was discovered unconscious on the beach between the Palace Pier and the Marina by a passer-by on February 12.

It is not known how long he had been lying there, but he was suffering from hypothermia and admitted to the city’s Royal Sussex County Hospital.

He remains in hospital where he is said to be making a good physical recovery as police forces nationwide and the Missing People charity seek help in finding out who he is.

Sussex Police said he had no cash when he was found and only had a few personal belongings with him – but nothing to enable him to be identified.

He speaks good English without any apparent accent and appears to have some general knowledge of south-east England.

The man has given two names to officers but they are thought to be products of his imagination, police added.

He is 6ft tall, of slim build with straight hair. When he was found, he was wearing suit-style grey trousers, a Next black shirt, a pin-striped grey suit jacket and an Urban Island woollen jacket with a hood.

Inspector Roy Apps said: "At present there is no reason to believe that this is anything other than a genuine memory loss.

"We are hoping that someone will see his photo and description and can tell us who he is."

The case has parallels with the infamous "piano man" case – German Andreas Grassl turned up on a Kent beach in 2005 with apparent memory loss.

The 20-year-old had no ID, no money and refused to speak. He played classical piano while in hospital until his memory returned four months later.

:: Anyone with information is asked to call Sussex Police on 0845 6070 999.

Chile: Two Million People Affected By Earthquake

28 Feb

CHILE: TWO MILLION PEOPLE AFFECTED BY EARTHQUAKE:

Two million people in Chile have been affected by the earthquake, said President Michelle Bachelet, adding that officials were still trying to evaluate the ‘enormous quantity of damage.’

Chileans fearful of aftershocks are camping outside in towns shattered by a massive earthquake, as officials struggled to grasp the scale of the damage to the country’s transport, energy and housing infrastructure.

One of the world’s most powerful earthquakes in a century hammered Chile early yesterday, killing more than 300 people as it toppled buildings and triggered a tsunami that pushed across the Pacific.

While the apparently low death toll could be considered a lucky escape from such a strong temblor, the quake dealt a serious blow to infrastructure in the world’s leading copper producer and one of Latin America’s most stable economies.

A tsunami killed at least four people on Chile’s Juan Fernandez Islands and caused serious damage to the port town of Talcahuano.

On the other side of the Pacific, Japan’s northern coast had tsunami waves of up to 90 centimetres and officials feared bigger ones could be coming.

Authorities in Russia’s far eastern Kamchatka Peninsula reported waves of 80cm but no damage was reported and the tsunami alert was lifted.

The earthquake has raised a daunting first challenge for billionaire Sebastian Pinera, who was elected Chile’s president in January in a shift to the political right and who takes office in two weeks.

‘We’re preparing ourselves for an additional task, a task that wasn’t part of our governing plan: assuming responsibility for rebuilding our country,’ he told reporters on Saturday.

‘It’s going to be a very big task and we’re going to need resources.’

Some economists predicted a deep impact on Chile’s economy after the quake damaged its industrial and agricultural sectors in the worst-hit regions, possibly putting pressure on its currency.

Government officials said the copper industry had enough stocks to meet its commitments despite a production shutdown at two major mines due to the quake.

But the government faces the task of helping Chileans rebuild an estimated half a million homes that were severely damaged as well as hundreds of buckled roads and collapsed bridges.

In Concepcion, a city of 670,000 people 115km southwest of the quake’s epicentre, hundreds of people spent the night outside in tents and make-shift shelters.

The city’s old houses made of adobe appeared to have borne the brunt of the damage, but a 15-storey apartment block also collapsed, likely killing or trapping many people inside.

The city was mostly blanketed in darkness, with the only light coming from bonfires and occasional police cars. Crushed cars, downed power lines and shattered glass littered the streets.

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Sat Feb 27, 4:55 pm ET

In response to the massive 8.8-magnitude earthquake in Chile, nonprofits are working on relief efforts. The following organizations have confirmed that they are responding in Chile. Click on the organizations below to donate and help the victims of the earthquake.

American Red Cross
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AmeriCares
AmeriCares is sending a rapid response team to help provide disaster relief in Chile. Medicines, medical supplies and other humanitarian aid are being readied for immediate shipment.
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Direct Relief International
Direct Relief International has offered assistance to Chilean authorities, emergency relief organizations, and U.S.-based partners working in Chile.
Donate to Direct Relief International.

Operation USA
Operation USA is sending medical aid to Chile as necessary as part of the relief efforts following the earthquake.
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OXFAM America
Oxfam is flying in an emergency team to assess the disaster and prepare a response.
Donate to OXFAM America.

World Vision International
World Vision is getting ready to transport emergency relief supplies and to send more staff to support the relief response.
Donate to World Vision International.

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By ERIC TALMADGE, Associated Press Writer Eric Talmadge, Associated Press Writer – 50 mins ago

TOKYO – The tsunami from Chile’s deadly earthquake hit Japan’s main islands and the shores of Russia on Sunday, but the smaller-than-expected waves prompted the lifting of a Pacific-wide alert. Hawaii and other Pacific islands were also spared.

In Japan, where hundreds of thousands of people were evacuated from shorelines, the biggest wave following the magnitude-8.8 quake off Chile hit the northern island of Hokkaido. There were no immediate reports of damage from the four-foot (1.2-meter) wave, though some piers were briefly flooded.

As it crossed the Pacific, the tsunami dealt populated areas — including the U.S. state of Hawaii — only a glancing blow.

The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center in Hawaii issued a warning for 53 nations and territories, but lifted it Sunday, though some countries were keeping their own watches in place as a precaution.

The tsunami raised fears the Pacific could fall victim to the type of devastating waves that killed 230,000 people in the Indian Ocean in 2004 the morning after Christmas. During that disaster, there was little-to-no warning and much confusion about the impending waves.

Officials said the opposite occurred after the Chile quake: They overstated their predictions of the size of the waves and the threat.

"We expected the waves to be bigger in Hawaii, maybe about 50 percent bigger than they actually were," said Gerard Fryer, a geophysicist for the warning center. "We’ll be looking at that."

Japan, fearing the tsunami could gain force as it moved closer, put all of its eastern coastline on tsunami alert and ordered hundreds of thousands of residents in low-lying areas to seek higher ground as waves generated by the Chilean earthquake raced across the Pacific at hundreds of miles (kilometers) per hour.

Japan is particularly sensitive to the tsunami threat.

In July 1993 a tsunami triggered by a major earthquake off Japan’s northern coast killed more than 200 people on the small island of Okushiri. A stronger quake near Chile in 1960 created a tsunami that killed about 140 people in Japan.

Towns along northern coasts issued evacuation orders to 400,000 residents, Japanese public broadcaster NHK said. NHK switched to emergency mode, broadcasting a map with the areas in most danger and repeatedly urging caution.

As the wave continued its expansion across the ocean, Japan’s Meteorological Agency said waves of up to 10 feet (three meters) could hit the northern prefectures of Aomori, Iwate and Miyagi, but the first waves were much smaller.

People packed their families into cars, but there were no reports of panic or traffic jams. Fishermen secured their boats, and police patrolled beaches, using sirens and loudspeakers to warn people to leave the area.

Elsewhere, the tsunami passed gently.

By the time the tsunami hit Hawaii — a full 16 hours after the quake — officials had already spent the morning blasting emergency sirens, blaring warnings from airplanes and ordering residents to higher ground.

The islands were back to paradise by the afternoon, but residents endured a severe disruption and scare earlier in the day: Picturesque beaches were desolate, million-dollar homes were evacuated, shops in Waikiki were shut down, and residents lined up at supermarkets to stock up on food and at gas stations.

Waves hit California, but barely registered amid stormy weather. A surfing contest outside San Diego went on as planned.

In Tonga, where up to 50,000 people fled inland hours ahead of the tsunami, the National Disaster Office had reports of a wave up to 6.5 feet (two meters) high hitting a small northern island, deputy director Mali’u Takai said. There were no initial indications of damage.

Nine people died in Tonga last September when the Samoa tsunami slammed the small northern island of Niuatoputapu, wiping out half of the main settlement.

In Samoa, where 183 people died in the tsunami five months ago, thousands remained Sunday morning in the hills above the coasts on the main island of Upolu, but police said there were no reports of waves or sea surges hitting the South Pacific nation.

At least 20,000 people abandoned their homes in south-eastern Philippine villages and took shelter in government buildings or fled to nearby mountains overnight due to the tsunami scare. Provincial officials scrambled to alert villagers and prepare contingency plans, according to the National Disaster Coordinating Council.

Philippine navy and coast guard vessels, along with police, were ordered to stand by for possible evacuation but the alert was lifted late Sunday afternoon.

Indonesia’s Meteorology and Geophysics Agency said there was no tsunami risk for the archipelago as it was too far from the quake’s epicentre.

On New Zealand’s Chatham Islands earlier Sunday, officials reported a wave measured at 6.6 feet (two meters).

Oceanographer Ken Gledhill said it was typical tsunami behaviour when the sea water dropped three feet (a meter) off North Island’s east coast at Gisborne and then surged back.

Several hundred people in the North Island coastal cities of Gisborne and Napier were evacuated from their homes and from camp grounds, while residents in low-lying areas on South Island’s Banks Peninsula were alerted to be ready to evacuate.

Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology cancelled its tsunami warning Sunday evening.

"The main tsunami waves have now passed all Australian locations," the bureau said.

No damage was reported in Australia from small waves that were recorded earlier in the day in New South Wales, Queensland, Tasmania and Norfolk Island, about 1,000 miles (1,600 kilometers) northeast of Sydney.

New Zealand’s Ministry of Civil Defense and Emergency Management downgraded its tsunami warning to an advisory status, which it planned to keep in place overnight.

___

Associated Press writers Mark Niesse and Audrey McAvoy in Honolulu, Mari Yamaguchi and Malcolm Foster in Tokyo, Ray Lilley in Wellington, New Zealand, Jim Gomez in Manila, Philippines, Debby Wu in Taipei, Taiwan, and Kristen Gelineau in Sydney contributed to this report.

JAPAN: Over 70,000 Evacuated As Tsunami Hits Country’s Pacific Coastline

28 Feb

OVER 70,000 EVACUATED AS TSUNAMI HITS JAPAN’S PACIFIC COASTLINE:

More than 70,000 people fled vulnerable coastal areas of Japan Sunday as a tsunami churned up by the huge earthquake in Chile slammed into the country’s long Pacific coastline.

"Please do not approach the coast at any cost," Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama said in nationally televised comments as Japan, one of the world’s most quake-prone nations, went on its first major tsunami alert in 15 years.

The first tsunami wave, 30 centimetres (one foot) high, hit Nemuro on the northern island of Hokkaido in the early afternoon, the Meteorological Agency said.

Far bigger waves of up to three metres (10 feet) could hit northern areas of Aomori, Iwate and Miyagi prefectures, south of Hokkaido, the agency said.

Hatoyama urged extreme caution even as fears of destructive waves eased across the rest of the Pacific.

"We should not drop our guard," the sombre-looking prime minister said. "I would like people to take all possible measures."

The Meteorological Agency also issued warnings for waves of up to two metres along the entire Pacific coastline of the Japanese archipelago, from Hokkaido through to the southern island chain of Okinawa.

Tsunami warnings flashed across all television channels as authorities rushed at least 70,000 people living on Japan’s east coast to schools and other public facilities located on higher ground.

Evacuation sirens wailed across the archipelago. Massive steel gates slammed shut across the entrances to several fishing ports and coastguard vessels fanned out to search for stray ships still at sea.

Officials in northern Japan said more than 50,000 residents had been ordered to evacuate, while many regional railway services were halted and public broadcaster NHK issued non-stop warnings to people to take shelter.

"We have not witnessed any panic among residents, but we are trying hard to work on a smooth evacuation," said Shigeru Suzuki, a local official in the north-eastern city of Sendai.

Masanori Kitamura, an official at Hachinohe on the northern tip of Japan’s main island Honshu, said: "Now, our firefighters are patrolling out there to check whether any residents remain near the coast."

Saturday’s quake in Chile, which killed at least 300 people, revived raw memories for Japan.

In 1960, a 9.5-magnitude earthquake in Chile — the largest on record — sent a tsunami hurtling across the Pacific, leaving more than 140 people dead in Japan. Related article: Chile quake kills over 300

However, construction standards and safety drills have vastly improved and Japan is today a world leader in disaster preparedness.

"Last time (in 1960), waves that hit after the first one became even more powerful," said Yasuo Sekita, a Meteorological Agency official in charge of monitoring earthquakes and tsunamis.

"We believe it will be the case this time, too," he told a news conference. "The agency will keep the tsunami alert for quite a long time."

The agency also warned that the waves could surge higher in northern coastal areas because they are expected around high tide.

Cities in the area were cancelling festivals and a local elections, while NHK repeatedly warned local residents not to go near beaches or a river mouth.

"Those living in the area, please help old people living alone, take their hands and go up to a higher place," one NHK reporter urged.

On Saturday, Okinawa was hit by a big 7.0-magnitude quake, triggering minor tsunamis but causing only small damage to housing and minor injuries.

In 1923, the Great Kanto Earthquake in the Tokyo area claimed more than 140,000 lives, many of them in fires. In 1995, a major quake killed some 6,400 people in Kobe and other western Japanese cities.

Washington: Long-Term Cannabis Use Linked To Psychosis In Young People: Study

27 Feb

LONG-TERM CANNABIS USE LINKED TO PSYCHOSIS: STUDY

The longer people use cannabis or marijuana, the more likely they are to experience hallucinations or delusions or to suffer psychosis, according to a study released Saturday.

The study found that people who first used cannabis when they were aged 15 or younger were twice as likely to develop a "non-affective psychosis" — which can include schizophrenia — than those who had never used the drug.

The research led by John McGrath from the University of Queensland in Australia was based on a survey of 3,801 people with an average age of 20.1 years, the US-based Archives of General Psychiatry reported.

"Among all the participants, a longer duration since the first time they used cannabis was associated with multiple psychosis-related outcomes," the study said.

Of the group, 17.7 percent reported using cannabis for three or fewer years, 16.2 percent for four to five years and 14.3 percent for six or more years.

Sixty-five were diagnosed with "non-affective psychosis", such as schizophrenia, and 233 had at least one hallucination, the study said.

"Individuals who had experienced hallucinations early in life were more likely to have used cannabis longer and to use it more frequently," it said.

But the relationship between psychosis and cannabis use was complex, it said.

People who were vulnerable to psychosis, in other words had isolated psychotic symptoms, "were more likely to commence cannabis use, which could then subsequently contribute to an increased risk of conversion to a non-affective psychotic disorder," the research said.

The article said previous studies had also identified an association between cannabis use and psychosis but there were concerns that research had not adequately accounted for confounding variables.

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Young adults who used marijuana as teens were more likely than those who didn’t to develop schizophrenia and psychotic symptoms including hallucinations and delusions, an Australian study found.

Those who used the drug for six or more years were twice as likely to develop a psychosis such as schizophrenia or to have delusional disorders than those who never used marijuana, according to research released online by the Archives of General Psychiatry. They were also four times as likely to score high on a list of psychotic-like experiences.

The findings build on previous research and shows that marijuana use isn’t as harmless as some people think, lead study author John McGrath said yesterday in an e-mail. The study was the first to look at sibling pairs to discount genetic or environmental influence and still find marijuana linked to later psychosis, the authors said in the study.

“This is the most convincing evidence yet that the earlier you use cannabis, the more likely you are to have symptoms of a psychotic illness,” said McGrath, a professor at the Queensland Brain Institute in Brisbane, Australia, in a statement. “The message for teenagers is: if they choose to use cannabis they have to understand there’s a risk involved.”

Smoked or Ingested

Marijuana, produced from the cannabis plant, can be smoked or ingested. Its recreational use is illegal in the U.S. About 14 U.S. states have laws allowing for medical use of marijuana, which advocates say can ease nausea for cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy or help stimulate the appetites of AIDS patients.

Researchers in the study were looking for causes of schizophrenia, McGrath said.

The researchers included 3,801 young adults who were born in Brisbane from 1981 to 1984. At the 21-year follow up, the participants, whose average age was about 20 were asked about marijuana use. The researchers also measured whether those in the study had psychotic symptoms.

Of the 1,272 participants who had never used marijuana, 26 or 2 percent were diagnosed with psychosis. Of the 322 people who had used marijuana for six or more years, 12 or 3.7 percent were diagnosed with the illness. Overall, 65 people were diagnosed with psychosis, according to the study.

The researchers also found that those who used marijuana the longest were four times more likely than those who didn’t to have the highest scores derived from a list of psychotic-like experiences. Two of the questions posed to study participants, according to McGrath, asked: “Do you ever feel as if you are possessed by someone or something else?” and “Do you ever feel as if other people can read your mind?”

Increased Risk

McGrath said that even those who used marijuana for fewer than three years still had an increased risk of scoring higher than those who had not.

“Apart from the implications for policy makers and health planners, we hope our findings will encourage further clinical and animal-model research to unravel the mechanisms linking cannabis use and psychosis,” the study authors wrote.

About 18 percent of those in the study said they used marijuana for three or fewer years, 16 percent said they used it for four to five years and 14 percent used it for six or more years.

Researchers don’t know when symptoms emerged or how much marijuana study participants used over their lives, McGrath said. Those in the study were interviewed at the ages of 14 and 21, so the symptoms emerged between those two study periods, he said.

Sibling Findings

The study also showed that among 228 sibling pairs, those who didn’t use marijuana reported fewer psychotic-like delusions compared with those who used cannabis. That difference was statistically significant and reduces the likelihood that the psychotic problems were caused by genetics or environment, the authors said.

The study also looked at siblings who both smoked pot and found that those who smoked it longer had a higher score for psychotic-like delusions than the other sibling who smoked for a shorter time.

About 2.4 million American adults have schizophrenia, according to the National Institutes of Health. The disorder often appears in men in their late teens and early 20s, while in women it generally strikes in their early 20s or 30s. It is associated with delusions, hallucinations and disordered thinking, McGrath said. It is unclear what causes the disease.

The study was funded by the National Health and Medical Research Council of Australia.

Limerick: People To Rise-Up Against Gun & Bomb Criminal Sub-Culture

27 Feb

PEOPLE RISE-UP AGAINST CRIMINAL GUN & BOMB SUB-CULTURE:

THE victim of yesterday’s tiger kidnapping joined a Limerick priest in railing against Ireland’s increasingly violent gun culture.

A traumatised Joe McLaughlin spoke of his ordeal as attackers put a gun to his partner’s head and warned him she would be found dead in a graveyard if he did not follow their instructions.

Mr McLaughlin, owner of the Village Stores and Post Office in Castlebellingham, Co Louth, also hit out at rising crime in Ireland and suggested "not enough gardaí are out on the beat; they are too busy with red tape".

Describing how he had just returned to the rural home he shares with Tess Coleman after walking his dog, Mr McLaughlin revealed how three men came up behind him and put a gun to his head.

"We were taken into the kitchen. A gun was put to Tess’s head and they produced a mobile phone and (used it) to take a picture of Tess. They got her to write a note to the post mistress and to tell her to follow the instructions on it," said Mr McLaughlin.

He was forced to leave Tess behind and head into work as normal. "I was told to go about my normal business until the post mistress came in at 8.50am and then show her the picture and the note. She had to fill a black bag with money and then I walked out with it [the bag].

"I had to leave it at a specified place and I was told that if the gardaí were contacted or there was an alarm or buzzer that Tess would be found in a graveyard," he said.

After he dropped off the bag of cash, which gardaí have confirmed contained in excess of €100,000, Mr McLaughlin collapsed on the footpath near the shop. Somebody then rang the gardaí.

"I then spent the longest 40 minutes of my life waiting for word to say that Tess was safe. I just hope I never ever have to go through something like that again."

The Louth man also hit out at the fact that a full-time Garda presence had been withdrawn from Castlebellingham.

A similar theme was repeated in Limerick, where a priest was burying the latest victim of serious crime in the city.

Fr Paddy Costelloe, speaking in St Mary’s church at the funeral Mass of bread man Daniel Treacy, said it was unacceptable that people were being mowed down by assassins armed with guns and bombs.

In his address, Fr Costelloe said: "We cannot live in this city with helicopters hovering above to keep peace… if people going about their daily business have to have Garda protection.

"We cannot continue to live in this city if you cannot go into a petrol station to get a newspaper, milk or the ubiquitous breakfast roll, maybe made from bread delivered by Daniel Treacy.

"It cannot go on. Something has got to give. We are people of hope, that is why something has got to give. People of violence will tell you they have their Glocks, their AK47s, their pipe bombs and artillery. Let us tell them this morning we have something more powerful. We have at our behest, within our hands, in our grasp, the invincible power of prayer."

Daniel Treacy, 35, was shot dead on his early morning round last Monday. His father, Phil, who runs the bakery business in which his son worked, is escorted on his bread round every day by armed gardaí. Two men were still being held by gardaí last night in connection with the murder.

He is under threat because evidence by another son, Owen, led to five members of the McCarthy-Dundon gang being jailed for life in 2003 for the murder of Kieran Keane, an uncle of the Treacy’s.

Daniel Treacy’s murder is being linked to the violent death five years ago of Moyross teenager, Darren Coughlan. One of the three men convicted of his manslaughter is Richard Treacy, a brother of Daniel Treacy.

CHILE: At Least 78 People Now Reported Dead In Earthquake Devastation: UPDATED

27 Feb

AT LEAST 78 PEOPLE NOW REPORTED DEAD IN CHILE EARTHQUAKE:

CHILE:ADDITIONAL EARTHQUAKE PHOTOS:

condeorloff, action datsun, Destino Para Lelos!, JanOSpixeles, and todosnuestrosmuertos.

 

By EVA VERGARA, Associated Press Writer Eva Vergara, Associated Press Writer – 50 mins ago:

SANTIAGO, Chile – A massive 8.8-magnitude earthquake struck Chile early Saturday, killing at least 78 people, collapsing buildings and setting off a tsunami.

Chilean TV showed devastating images from the country’s second city of Concepcion of collapsed homes, a large building completely engulfed in flames and injured people lying in the streets or on stretchers. It said the earthquake destroyed many roads, making it impossible for vehicles to get through, and there was no electricity or water.

Tsunami warnings were issued over a wide area, including South America, Hawaii, Australia and New Zealand, Japan, the Philippines, Russia and many Pacific islands.

A huge wave reached a populated area in the Robinson Crusoe Islands, 410 miles (660 kilometers) off the Chilean coast, said President Michele Bachelet. There were no immediate reports of major damage there, she added.

Bachelet said the death toll was at 78 and rising, but officials had no information on the number of people injured. She declared a "state of catastrophe" in central Chile.

"We have had a huge earthquake, with some aftershocks," Bachelet said from an emergency response center. She urged Chileans not to panic.

"Despite this, the system is functioning. People should remain calm. We’re doing everything we can with all the forces we have. Any information we will share immediately," she said.

Powerful aftershocks rattled Chile’s coast — 19 of them magnitude 5 or greater and one reaching magnitude 6.9 — the U.S. Geological Survey reported.

Bachelet urged people to avoid travelling, since traffic lights are down, to avoid causing more fatalities.

In the capital, Santiago airport was shut down and will remain closed for at least the next 24 hours, airport director Eduardo del Canto said. The passenger terminal has suffered major damage, he told Chilean television in a telephone interview. TV images show smashed windows, partially collapsed ceilings and pedestrian walkways destroyed.

In Concepcion, nurses and residents pushed some of the injured through the streets on stretchers. Others walked around in a daze wrapped in blankets, some carrying infants in their arms.

Residents were rummaging through rubble in the coastal city of Santo Domingo, in the region of Valparaiso. One resident said 40 buildings had collapsed but that he didn’t believe there were any deaths.

The quake hit 200 miles (325 kilometers) southwest of Santiago, at a depth of 22 miles (35 kilometers) at 3:34 a.m. (0634 GMT; 1:34 a.m. EST), the U.S. Geological Survey reported.

The epicentre was just 70 miles (115 kilometers) from Concepcion, where more than 200,000 people live along the Bio Bio river, and 60 miles (95 kilometers) from the ski town of Chilean, a gateway to Andean ski resorts that was destroyed in a 1939 earthquake.

Marco Vidal — a program director for Grand Circle Travel who was travelling with a group of 34 Americans — was on the 19th floor of the Crown Plaza Santiago hotel when the quake struck.

"All the things start to fall. The lamps, everything, was going on the floor. And it was moving like from south to north, oscillated. I felt terrified," he said.

Cynthia Iocono, from Linwood, Pennsylvania, said she first thought the quake was a train.

"But then I thought, oh, there’s no train here. And then the lamps flew off the dresser and my TV flew off onto the floor and crashed."

"It was scary, but there really wasn’t any panic. Everybody kind of stayed orderly and looked after one another," Iocono said.

In Santiago, modern buildings are built to withstand earthquakes, but many older ones were heavily damaged, including the Nuestra Senora de la Providencia church, whose bell tower collapsed. An apartment building’s two-level parking lot also flattened onto the ground floor, smashing about 50 cars whose alarms and horns rang incessantly. A bridge just outside the capital also collapsed, and at least one car flipped upside down.

In the coastal city of Vina del Mar, the earthquake struck just as people were leaving a disco, Julio Alvarez told Radio Cooperativa in Santiago. "It was very bad, people were screaming, some people were running, others appeared paralyzed. I was one of them."

Bachelet said she was declaring a "state of catastrophe" in three central regions of the country, and that while emergency responders were waiting for first light to get details, it was evident that damage was extensive.

She said Chile has not asked for assistance from other countries.

Several hospitals have been evacuated due to earthquake damage, she said, and communications with the city of Concepcion remained down. She planned to tour the effected region as quickly as possible to get a better idea of the damage.

The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center called for "urgent action to protect lives and property" in Hawaii, which is among 53 nations and territories subject to tsunami warnings.

"Sea level readings indicate a tsunami was generated. It may have been destructive along coasts near the earthquake epicentre and could also be a threat to more distant coasts," the warning center said. It did not expect a tsunami along the west of the U.S. or Canada but was continuing to monitor the situation.

The largest earthquake ever recorded struck the same area of Chile on May 22, 1960. The magnitude-9.5 quake killed 1,655 people and left 2 million homeless. The tsunami that it caused killed people in Hawaii, Japan and the Philippines and caused damage to the west coast of the United States.

___

Associated Press Television News cameraman Mauricio Cuevas in Santiago and Sandy Kozel in Washington contributed to this story.

————————–

UPDATE: (1):

By JAYMES SONG, Associated Press Writer Jaymes Song, Associated Press Writer – 20 mins ago:

EWA BEACH, Hawaii – A tsunami triggered by the Chilean earthquake raced across the Pacific Ocean on Saturday, threatening Hawaii and the U.S. West Coast as well as hundreds of islands from the bottom of the planet to the top.

Sirens blared in Hawaii to alert residents to the potential waves. Nine small planes equipped with loudspeakers flew along the shoreline, warning beachgoers. On several South Pacific islands hit by a tsunami last fall, police evacuated tens of thousands of coastal residents.

The first waves in Hawaii were expected to hit shortly after 11 a.m. Saturday (4 p.m. EST; 2100 GMT) and measure roughly 8 feet (2.5 meters) at Hilo. Most Pacific Rim nations did not immediately order evacuations, but advised people in low-lying areas to be on the lookout.

Unlike other tsunamis in recent years in which residents had little to if any warnings, emergency officials along the Pacific on Saturday had hours to prepare and decide on evacuating residents.

"We’ve got a lot of things going for us," said Charles McCreery, the director of the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center, which issues warnings to almost every country around the Pacific Rim and to most of the Pacific island states. "We have a reasonable lead time.

In Hawaii, boats and people near the coast were being evacuated. Hilo International Airport, located along the coast, was closed. In Honolulu, residents lined up at supermarkets to stock up on water, canned food and batteries. Cars lined up 15 long at several gas stations.

"These are dangerous, dangerous events," said John Cummings, spokesman for the Honolulu Emergency Management Department.

In Tonga, where nine people died in a Sept. 29 tsunami, police and Defense forces began evacuating tens of thousands of people from low-lying coastal areas as they warned residents that waves about three feet (one meter) high could wash ashore.

"I can hear the church bells ringing to alert the people," National Disaster Office deputy director Mali’u Takai said.

On the island of Robinson Crusoe, a huge wave from the tsunami covered half the village of San Juan Batista and three people were missing, said Ivan de la Maza, the superintendent of Chile’s principal mainland port, Valparaiso.

A helicopter and a Navy frigate were enroute to the island to assist in the search, he said.

A tsunami warning — the highest alert level — was in effect for Hawaii, Guam, American Samoa, Samoa and dozens of other Pacific islands. An advisory — the lowest level — includes California, Oregon, Washington state, parts of Alaska, and coastal British Colombia.

British Columbia is hosting the Winter Olympic Games, but provincial officials said the venues are not under threat.

U.S. President Barack Obama says the government is preparing for a tsunami and he wants people in Hawaii, American Samoa and Guam to follow the instructions of local authorities.

American Samoa Lt. Gov. Aitofele Sunia called on residents of shoreline villages to move to higher ground. Police in Samoa issued a nationwide alert to begin coastal evacuations. The tsunami is expected to reach the islands Saturday morning.

In French Polynesia, tsunami waves up to 6 feet (2 meters) high swept ashore, but no damage was immediately reported.

Meanwhile, disaster management officials in Fiji said they have been warned to expect waves of as high as 7.5 feet (2.3 meters) to hit the northern and eastern islands of the archipelago and the nearby Tonga islands.

A lower-grade tsunami advisory was in effect for the coast of California and an Alaskan coastal area from Kodiak to Attu islands. Tsunami Center officials said they did not expect the advisory would be upgraded to a warning.

Waves were likely to hit Asian, Australian and New Zealand shores within 24 hours of Saturday’s quake. A tsunami wave can travel at up to 600 mph, said Jenifer Rhoades, tsunami program manager at the National Weather Service in Washington, DC.

Some Pacific nations in the warning area were heavily damaged by a tsunami last year.

In last fall’s tsunami, spawned by a magnitude-8.3 earthquake, also killed 34 people in American Samoa and 183 in Samoa. Scientists later said that wave was 46 feet (14 meters) high.

The tsunami warning center said the waves reached the islands so quickly residents had only about 10 minutes to respond to its alert.

During the devastating December 2004 Indian ocean tsunami, there was little to no warning and confusion about the impending waves. The tsunami eradicated entire coastal communities the morning after Christmas, killing 230,000 people.

The sirens in Hawaii will also be sounded again three hours prior to the estimated arrival time.

Every TV was showing the news. Convenience stores and McDonald’s and Burger King Restaurants shut down. A few people were on the famed beach, including joggers on the sidewalk, but far fewer than normal. Most seemed to be watching the ocean.

In Hilo, officials cordoned off the first three blocks next to the beach. A few people watched the still ocean as a whale swam off the coast, but streets were mostly empty as tsunami sirens blared. Gas stations had long lines, some 10 cars deep.

The SackNSave grocery store was filled with people buying everything from instant noodles to beer. Shelves with water were mostly empty, save a few bottles.

"They are buying everything we got," clerk Memory Phillik said.

Hawaii Gov. Linda Lingle declared a state of emergency. She said leprosy patients from the Kalaupapa settlement on Molokai have been moved to higher ground. Helicopters are standing by if the patients need to be moved to a safer area.

Past South American earthquakes have had deadly effects across the Pacific.

A tsunami after a magnitude-9.5 quake that struck Chile in 1960, the largest earthquake ever recorded killed about 140 people in Japan, 61 in Hawaii and 32 in the Philippines. It was about 3.3 to 13 feet (one to four meters) in height, Japan’s Meteorological Agency said.

Japanese public broadcaster NHK quoted earthquake experts as saying the tsunami would likely be tens of centimetres (inches) high and reach Japan in about 22 hours. A tsunami of 28 centimetres (11 inches) was recorded after a magnitude-8.4 earthquake near Chile in 2001.

The Joint Australian Tsunami Warning Center issued a tsunami warning Saturday night for a "potential tsunami threat" to New South Wales State, Queensland State, Lord Howe Island and Norfolk Island. Any wave would not hit Australia until Sunday morning local time, it said.

New Zealand officials warned that "non-destructive" tsunami waves of less than three feet could hit the entire east coast of the country’s two main islands and its Chatham Islands territory, some 300 miles east of New Zealand.

Seismologist Fumihiko Imamura, of Japan’s Tohoku University, told NHK that residents near ocean shores should not underestimate the power of a tsunami even though they may be generated by quakes on the other side of the ocean.

"There is the possibility that it could reach Japan without losing its strength," he said.

___

Associated Press writers Mark Niesse, Audrey McAvoy, David Briscoe and Greg Small in Honolulu, Kristen Gelineau in Sydney, Chris Havlik in Phoenix, Ray Lilley in Auckland, New Zealand, Eric Talmadge in Tokyo, Alan Clendenning in Sao Paulo, Brazil, and Charmaine Noronha in Toronto contributed to this report.

 

UPDATE: (2):

By Alonso Soto Alonso Soto – 25 mins ago:

SANTIAGO (Reuters) – A huge magnitude-8.8 earthquake struck Chile early on Saturday, killing at least 122 people, knocking down homes and hospitals, and triggering a tsunami that rolled menacingly across the Pacific.

Buildings caught fire, major highway bridges collapsed and wide cracks opened up in streets. A 15-storey building collapsed in the city of Concepcion, near the epicentre, and overturned cars lay scattered below a fallen overpass in the capital.

Chilean President-elect Sebastian Pinera said at least 122 people had died in the quake, which struck at 3:34 a.m. (1:34 a.m. EST), sending many people rushing outside in their pajamas.

"Unfortunately, Chile is a country of catastrophes," Pinera said, adding the quake dealt a heavy blow to the country’s roads, airports and ports.

He said the death toll could still rise, but an emergency official said it was unlikely to increase dramatically.

Tsunami warnings were posted around the Pacific, including the U.S. state of Hawaii, Japan and Russia.

Telephone and power lines were down across large swathes of central Chile, making it difficult to assess the full extent of the damage close to the epicentre.

The South American country is the world’s No. 1 copper producer, and the quake halted operations at two major mines.

The U.S. Geological Survey said the earthquake struck 70 miles northeast of Concepcion at a depth of 22 miles.

The capital Santiago, about 200 miles north of the epicentre, was also badly hit. The international airport was closed for at least 24 hours as the quake destroyed passenger walkways and shook glass out of doors and windows.

"I thought I’d blown a tire … but then I saw the highway moving like it was a piece of paper and I realized it was something much worse," said one man who was forced to abandon his car on a wrecked highway overpass.

Chile’s Codelco, the world’s largest copper producer, suspended operations at its El Teniente and Andina mines, but reported no major damage and said it expected the mines to be up and running in the "coming hours."

Production was halted at the Los Bronces and El Soldado copper mines, owned by Anglo American Plc, but Chile’s biggest copper mine, Escondida, was operating normally.

Chile produces about 34 percent of world supply of copper, which is used in electronics, cars and refrigerators.

TSUNAMI

Chilean President Michelle Bachelet said a huge wave hit the Juan Fernandez Islands, and archipelago where Scottish sailor Alexander Selkirk was marooned in the 18th century inspiring the novel Robinson Crusoe.

"There was a series of waves that got bigger and bigger, which gave people time to save themselves," pilot Fernando Avaria told TVN television by telephone from the main island. Three people were killed and four missing there, he said.

Bachelet said residents were evacuated from coastal areas of Chile’s remote Easter Island, a popular tourist destination in the Pacific famous for its towering Moai stone statues.

Unusually big waves battered Ecuador’s Galapagos Islands, where residents were moved to higher ground as a precaution.

The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center issued a Pacific-wide tsunami warning for the U.S. state of Hawaii and countries as far away as Japan, Russia, Philippines, Indonesia and the South Pacific. French Polynesia was also put on alert.

"Chile probably got the brunt force of the tsunami already. So probably the worst has already happened in Chile," said Victor Sardina, geophysicist at the warning center.

"The tsunami was pretty big too. We reported some places around 8 feet. And it’s quite possible it would be higher in other areas," he added.

An earthquake of magnitude 8 or over can cause "tremendous damage," the USGS says. The January 12 quake that devastated Haiti’s capital Port-au-Prince was measured as magnitude 7.0.

In 1960, a massive earthquake in Chile generated waves that reached the Philippines in about 24 hours.

FLAMES, LOOTING

Local television showed a building in flames in Concepcion, one of Chile’s largest cities with around 670,000 inhabitants. Some residents looted pharmacies and a collapsed grains silo, hauling off bags of wheat, television images showed.

Broken glass and chunks of concrete and brick were strewn across roads and several strong aftershocks rattled jittery residents in the hours after the initial quake.

In the moments after the quake, people streamed onto the streets of the Chilean capital hugging each other and crying.

"My house is completely destroyed, everything fell over … it has been totally destroyed. Me and my wife huddled in a corner and after hours they rescued us," said one elderly man in central Santiago.

There were blackouts in parts of Santiago. Emergency officials said buildings in the historic quarters of two southern cities, mainly made of adobe, had been badly damaged and local radio said three hospitals had partially collapsed.

In 1960, Chile was hit by the world’s biggest earthquake since records dating back to 1900. The 9.5 magnitude quake devastated the south-central city of Valdivia, killing 1,655 people and sending a tsunami that battered Easter Island 2,300 miles off Chile’s Pacific coast and continued as far as Hawaii, Japan and the Philippines.

Saturday’s quake shook buildings as far away as Argentina’s Andean provinces of Mendoza and San Juan. A series of strong aftershocks rocked Chile’s coastal region from Valdivia in the south to Valparaiso, about 500 miles to the north.

The United Nations and the White House said they were closely monitoring the situation in Chile and the potential threat of tsunamis in the Pacific.

"We stand ready to help (Chile) in this hour of need," White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said.

A State Department official said Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was being kept apprised of the situation in Chile, which she is due to visit on Tuesday on a Latin American tour.

(Additional reporting by Helen Popper, Kevin Gray and Guido Nejamkis in Buenos Aires, editing by Anthony Boadle)