Chile Seaside Resort of Pelluhue Washed Away After Quake

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The massive earthquake that rocked Chile early Saturday and the tsunamis that followed it have devastated the Andean nation's coastal communities.

Several seaside resort towns have simply been washed away, and such was the fate of Pelluhue, and its roughly 1,000 residents.

"The earth started shaking so violently that we couldn't stand," said Maria Julia Aguilar, who was vacationing with her husband in Pelluhue. They struggled to their feet and fled by car into the hills above the town. She said the air was filled with the tidal waves' loud crushing of houses along the shoreline.

In one spot, the waves had harpooned 70-foot-high Cypress trees into beachfront homes, while washing other houses up onto the mountainside above the beachfront town. Plywood and housing materials littered the coast and floated offshore.

When Aguilar returned to the site shortly after dawn, she saw four bodies half-buried in the sand.

Residents said a series of waves started to reach shore shortly after the 8.8-magnitude quake struck at 0634 GMT Saturday. The first waves hit about five minutes after the quake, while the biggest wave slammed into the town about an hour later.

Clara Lepe was asleep in her beachfront home when the quake jarred her awake. She fled with her husband and two daughters, racing away from the beach in their four-wheel drive vehicle. In the panic, Lepe said two cars crashed head-on as residents tried to get away from the shore.

"People were going crazy," Lepe said with tears in her eyes. "It was utter chaos."

Lepe, however, was one of the more fortunate residents. The sturdy construction of her home allowed it to withstand the tidal surge. But while the structure of the house was intact, everything inside had been washed away. She vowed, however, that the tragedy would not drive her away from Pellehue.

"This is our home," Lepe said. "This is our land, and we're going to rebuild here."

Now, residents are trying to salvage what they can from the wreckage. Some residents said looters had already picked through the wreckage. There has been little police or military presence in the remote regions, and residents said they were running short of food and water.