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Earthquake Strikes Chile Near Limarí and Elqui Valleys

With fears of tsunamis, 1 million people evacuate coast; impact on wine industry is not yet known
Photo by: Claudio Reyes/AFP/Getty
The earthquake damaged buildings and brought flooding to coastal towns like Concón.

Mitch Frank
Posted: September 17, 2015

A strong 8.3 magnitude earthquake struck Chile Wednesday evening, shaking buildings 175 miles away in Santiago and triggering fears of tsunami waves. The epicenter of the quake was just offshore of the Coquimbo region, home to the Limarí Valley and Elqui Valley wine regions, but with power out in much of the area and people evacuating coastal towns, it is unclear how extensive the damage may be. At least eight deaths have been reported.

The quake began at 7:54 p.m. local time just offshore of the town of Illapel, south of the Limarí Valley. Chile’s national emergency service ordered an immediate evacuation of coastal areas. Waves as high as 15 feet were reported in the city of Coquimbo and there were numerous reports of flooding in coastal towns. Chile’s Under Secretary of the Interior, Mahmud Aleuy, told journalists that 1 million people had been evacuated and 243,000 homes had lost power.

Update: By Sept. 22, power had been restored to much of the Elqui Valley, and one winery reported losing a large volume of wine.

The shaking was felt in Santiago and Valparaiso and as far away as Buenos Aires, Argentina, and São Paulo, Brazil. Much of the Chilean wine industry is located to the south of the quake zone, but Limarí and Elqui, traditionally sources of grapes for Pisco brandy, have increasingly produced quality table wines.

Concha y Toro released a statement Thursday morning reporting that its personnel were safe and its facilities OK. The company’s Nueva Aurora cellar in the Limarí town of Ovalle suffered some damage but staff was able to handle it quickly, the company reported. VSPT Wine Group, which owns numerous Chilean wineries including San Pedro, Tarapacá and Leyda, issued a statement that its staff, their families and its vineyards and wineries were safe.

Chile lies on a major fault line and is vulnerable to earthquakes. More than 500 people died in an 8.8 magnitude quake in 2010, but the government has worked hard since then to improve construction regulations and safety systems.

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