Monday, March 1, 2010

Chile earthquake: Santiago airport remains closed as tour operators cancel holidays
Split in two: A damaged apartment block in Concepcion, Chile, after Saturday's earthquake

The Foreign Office is warning Britons against 'all but essential travel' to the regions worst affected by the earthquake in Chile over the weekend.

The epicentre of the quake, which measured 8.8 on the Richter Scale and struck in the early hours of Saturday was some 30 miles off Chile's coast. The cities of Concepcion, Talca and the capital Santiago have seen the worst damage with 700 people already confirmed dead, a number that is expected to rise say Chilean officials.

Hundreds of thousands of people in 53 countries were evacuated from their homes and millions more put on alert after a tsunami from the quake raced across the Pacific.

The FCO website is advising that the regions of Maule and Biobio are currently 'states of catastrophe' and should be avoided by travellers. Phone links to The British Embassy in Santiago are down and Britons in Chile are being asked to 'follow the advice of the local authorities'.

Those due to travel to the country this week have been forced to change their plans as much of Chile's infrastructure, particularly south of Santiago, has been damaged with transport links, including the Pan-American Highway, severely affected.

The country has long been popular with independent travellers and backpackers with around 65,000 Britons visiting Chile every year.

The main gateway for flights, Santiago Airport, has been closed since the earthquake but there are reports that it may reopen later today. Iberia and LAN Chile, which both fly from the UK to Santiago via Madrid, have suspended flights as has American Airlines which flies from Miami.

Frances Tuke of ABTA, The Travel Association told TravelMail: "As far as we know there are only a few hundred Britons currently on holiday in Chile and our members are all reporting that they're safe and well in their hotels."

Adventure tour operator Explore has cancelled a 16-day 'Atacama to Paine' itinerary and elsewhere, cruises to the Galapagos Islands were also disrupted as the threat of a tsunami prevented boats from landing or anchoring off the islands.

Although aftershocks are still being felt across southern Chile, a giant tidal wave which could have spread as far as Australia, Hawaii, Philippines and Russia hasn't materialised although large waves have hit land - amateur video footage taken in Hawaii shows a beach being flooded.

Meanwhile, fears are growing for four British backpackers missing in Chile. Kirsty Duff and Dave Sandercock were on a surfing holiday round South America but have not been heard from since Thursday. They were in Pichilemu, a surf resort about three hours from Santiago, when it was rocked by the quake.

Missing: Kirsty Duff and Dave Sandercock both arrived in the surfing town of Pichilemu last week and have not contacted family since the quake

Kirsty’s cousin Clare Slipper, 19, said: 'We have not heard from them since Thursday. They arrived in Chile three weeks ago from Peru, and were living in the town, which is between the two cities badly affected by the earthquake.

'They are both really into surfing and had been travelling and they went there to surf. The good news is there have been no reported fatalities or casualties in the town.

'But it has been quite badly damaged and because we have not heard from them, the family is getting worried. We are just waiting to hear from the British Embassy in case there has been any news.'

Another couple, Andre Lanyon from Guernsey and Laura Hapgood, both 29, also went to Pichilemu on Friday.

For more information on the Chile earthquake, visit or call the Foreign and Commonwealth Office on +44 207 008 0000.

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