- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 27, 2010

UPDATED:

WASHINGTON (AP) — The U.S. “will be there” if Chile asks for rescue and recovery help after a powerful earthquake struck the South American nation, President Barack Obama said Saturday.

He also warned people in Hawaii, Guam, American Samoa and the West Coast to heed the instructions of local authorities about evacuations and other measures in advance of a tsunami moving across the Pacific Ocean.

“We can’t control nature, but we can and must be prepared for disaster when it strikes,” he said in a statement at the White House.

Obama spoke as the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center issued a tsunami warning — its highest alert — for Hawaii. That alert was later canceled after the tsunami effects on Hawaii proved to be less serious than anticipated.

TEXT: Obama says heed the tsunami warnings

The Navy was moving more than a half dozen vessels Saturday to try to avoid damage from the tsunami, at the time of the more serious warning.

Before he spoke, Obama had a 20-minute conference call with staff and Cabinet members who updated him on conditions in Chile and on the tsunami. Participants included Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano.

“The United States stands ready to assist in the rescue and recovery efforts and we have resources that are positioned to deploy should the Chilean government ask for our help,” Obama said. Chile’s president, Michelle Bachelet, said her government has not asked for assistance from other countries.

Clinton planned to leave Sunday for a previously scheduled trip to the region. Her itinerary included more than a day in Chile, but it was unclear Saturday whether she would stick to it.

The U.S. Embassy in Chile was working to learn the whereabouts of U.S. citizens in Chile, both diplomatic employees and other Americans who may have been living there or visiting, State Department spokeswoman Megan Mattson said. There are 118 embassy employees in Chile, and by late Saturday all but one person had been accounted for, she said.

There were no reports of U.S. casualties, and the U.S. military said it had no reports that any of its forces had been affected either on land or at sea.

The State Department advises Americans seeking information on family and friends in Chile to contact the Bureau of Consular Affairs at 1-888-407-4747.

It was unclear how many Americans there are throughout Chile, but an estimated 1,000 live in and near Concepcion, which is Chile’s second-largest city and only 70 miles from the earthquake’s epicenter.


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