to Mr. Evarts
Santiago, Chili , April 18, 1878. (Received June 3.)
Sir: On my way down the Pacific coast in August last my curiosity was especially excited concerning the disastrous earthquake and tidal wave with which that section had been visited on the evening of the 9th of May preceding. A memorandum was made of the result of my inquiries, and I have thought that it might possess sufficient interest to warrant me in basing a dispatch upon it.
The shock and the subsequent wave were experienced with more or less violence on the entire coast from Callao to Valparaiso, the center being near the southern boundary-line of Peru, in the neighborhood of the southern guano-deposits. At Callao the water rose several feet, but comparatively little damage resulted therefrom. In fact, I did not observe anything worthy of especial note, in view of the frequency with which this coast is visited with occurrences of this character, until my arrival at Arica, about 400 miles south of Callao. Here the shock was very violent. The sea, immediately after, rose to a great height, and rushed wildly in to finish the work which had been but begun by the quake. I did not go ashore at Arica, and was unable to learn of the exact rise in the water, but could plainly see from the ship some of the disastrous results. The fine iron mole which had been but a short time completed was almost entirely carried away. As evidence of the violence of the wave, I may state as a fact that the hull of the American war steamer Wateree, which had been thrown a mile or more inland by the great wave of 1868, was floated and deposited a considerable distance farther north and to the water’s edge.
At Iquique, some 150 miles farther south, the quake was felt at 8½ o’clock, p.m., and the sea shortly afterwards rushed in upon the town, sweeping away the moles, and destroying the nitrate bodegas and the business houses which were situated near the sea. There was no loss of life, however, the people having fled to the hills. At this point the sea was very violently agitated, and during all the next day, at irregular intervals, [Page 90] rose to an extraordinary height. There were many ships in the harbor, and, breaking from their moorings, they were recklessly tossed about on the waves, totally regardless of all efforts to control their movements. A German bark foundered, and a steamer, a schooner, and several lighters were thrown upon a small island in front of the town.
Some 50 miles to the south of Iquique are the southern guano deposits. There are three towns in this section, named, respectively, Point Lobos, Haunillos, and Pabellon de Pica. At the last-named place, at a few minutes past eight was felt the first shock, preceded by a loud subterraneous rumbling; and almost immediately came the great quake, the strongest felt in Peru since that which worked such ruin on the coast in August, 1868. It lasted about three minutes, and the violent motion of the ground caused the kerosene lamps by which the place was lighted to be overthrown, originating a number of fires. Many persons, remembering the wave of 1868, ran for the hills by which the town is surrounded, while many labored to extinguish the fires, which were threatening the destruction of the little city. The sea soon rose to an enormous height, and rushing violently through a gully formed by a point of high rocks called “Chanavaya” and the mountains behind, swept at one blow the entire town into the sea. Two hundred persons were carried off by the wave. With those who escaped it was a run for life, and nothing whatever was saved by them except the clothing they were wearing at the time. By the light of the burning buildings a number of women were observed together round the church engaged in prayer. The wave rushed in, and in a moment all was darkness and death. The sea came and retired, during that awful night, five times, at intervals of about thirty minutes, and the marks show that the water rose about 60 feet above its ordinary level. Previous to the shock there was bright starlight, but this gave way to inky darkness, with a slight drizzle of rain. The poor shivering people on the high ground, many of whom had only their night-clothes, suffered indescribable horrors. The grinding together of the ships which were at anchor in the bay and the crashing of the rocks as they fell from the precipitous and lofty hills in the neighborhood betokened great destruction; yet even these, ominous as they were, but poorly prepared those who had been saved for the sight which daybreak presented to them. Not only was the entire town swept away, but even the form of the ground on which it had Mood was greatly changed, and the busy place of the day before remained only in memory. But great as was the ruin of the town, it was equaled, if not eclipsed, by the wreck among the shipping. The ships, parting their moorings, with the eddies created by the waves, collided promiscuously with each other. They rushed in with the waves and out again with the reflux, sometimes at a speed of eight knots an hour; and all were mixed up in the most dire confusion, and many were abandoned by their crews.
The American ship Alida, of Thomaston, Me., carried away with her masts the principal platform and chutes by which the guano was laden, and then went ashore, where she now lies a total wreck. Two Norwegian ships, both named Drot, the German bark E. F. Gabian, the Italian bark Silvia B. and Antoni, and the English bark Lady Bellew, foundered. Several ships were so seriously injured that they have been condemned and sold, while all the remaining ones then in the harbor have been Compelled to go to Callao and Valparaiso, for repairs. All the lighters and small craft were either foundered, dashed to pieces on the rocks, or deposited high and dry at a considerable distance from the sea.[Page 91]
At Point Lobos and Huanillos the same phenomena were experienced and with equal force. Great damage was suffered among the shipping, and part of the town of Huanillos was swept away.
At Point Lobos, the American ship Shamrock and an Italian vessel foundered; and at Huanillos, the English ships Avonmore, Conference, and Conway Castle, and the American ship Geneva suffered a like fate. Several lives were lost, among them the wife and family of the captain of the Avonmore and the captain of the English bark Arctic. The earth cracked in many places near Huanillos. A peculiar blue fire flashed on the hills, and a strong sulphurous smell prevailed, which caused a fear that the atmosphere might be destroyed, and greatly added to the terrors of the people.
Toward the south the violence of the quake and wave gradually diminished. At one or two points in Bolivia, I learn, some damage resulted. At Valparaiso the shock was comparatively slight, and no loss was occasioned by it.
I have, &c.,