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Chile quake: The view from Valdivia

Assessing the damage from a city that has already faced "the big one."

Residents gather their belongings near a fishing boat washed up by a wave generated by an earthquake in Talcahuano Port. (Stringer/Reuters)

VALDIVIA, Chile – One of the world’s six-largest earthquakes in recorded history has left hundreds dead and damaged buildings, roads, and bridges throughout central Chile.

Chileans slowly are becoming aware of the breadth of the disaster, which President Michelle Bachelet called "a catastrophe of devastating consequences."

Chile’s president-in-waiting, Sebastian Pinera, who is to take office on March 11, had an extensive tour of the damage, then grimly told reporters “it is probable that the official number of people who have lost their lives is going to increase, and there are many injured.”

“Our future government is going to do all that is necessary to help the victims of this earthquake and to accelerate the process of reconstruction,” said Pinera.

Slideshow: scenes of destruction

The earthquake was felt across the region to varying degrees. In Argentina, many hundred miles away from the epicenter, which was just north of Chile’s second-largest-city Concepcion in central Chile, towns like Villa de Angostura were jolted awake to shaking beds. Four regions of Chile were declared “zones of catastrophe.”

In the southern Chilean city of Valdivia, which nearly 50 years ago, on May 22, 1960, was the site of an earthquake measuring a devastating 9.5 on the Richter scales — the world’s most powerful earthquake in history – residents were especially aware of the dangers of this natural disaster.

Monica Paredes, 31, who runs boat tours with her father along the Cruces River, which winds through this coastal city located about 330 miles south of the epicenter of the earthquake, said her home rocked back and forth progressively stronger for several minutes, sending her television and furniture flying across the house. Her stepfather, Armando Peralta, 73, a survivor of the 1960 earthquake, immediately recognized the magnitude of this earthquake and sought to keep them calm.

"We were sleeping, and then the house began to rise up," said Paredes. "We're still terrified."

Laura Sierra, 25, said that her mother, another survivor of the world’s worst-ever earthquake, screamed with outright fright as they hurried down the stairs from the fourth-floor of their rickety, old apartment building. They were sure it was going to collapse.

"We were trembling on the street in our pajamas watching the street move below us for what seemed like 15 minutes," said Sierra.