Chile Quake Doesn't Compare to 1960 Horror

Chile's precarious location makes it a prime target for seismic activity, including the most powerful earthquake scientists have ever recorded, reports CBS News Correspondent Bill Whitaker.

Even today the images and the impact of that 1960 quake in Chile have the power to shock.

Special Section: Earthquake in Chile

"Thousands are dead," a newsreel from 1960 reported. "One quarter of the nation, over 2 million, homeless. Whole cities have been reduced to shambles."

The 1960 quake - about 10 times greater than Saturday's - shook Chile for 11 horrifying minutes and sent shockwaves around the world, triggering destructive tsunamis. Fifteen hours later, a 35-foot wave smashed into Hilo on the Big Island of Hawaii, more than 6,000 miles away.

Sixteen hundred houses were destroyed, and 185 people were dead or missing. A day later, a deadly 18-foot wave slammed into Japan. Tsunamis swept across the Pacific from the Philippines to California.

More coverage of the earthquake in Chile

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Japan Tsunami Possibly 10 Feet, Gov't Says
Tsunami Hits Hawaii, Minimal Damage
Hawaii's 1960 Tsunami
Chile Shock Released 500x Energy of Haiti Quake
Quake Witness: A Roar Like a Freight Train
Obama: U.S. "Will Be There" For Chile
Images From Chile Earthquake

Along the California coast, the tsunami swept in at an angle, causing heavy damage, according to newsreels from back then.

It wasn't the worst earthquake ever, but it was the worst ever recorded. For the first time, a quake's tremendous power and reach were picked up by sensors newly placed around the globe to monitor Cold War nuclear testing by the United States and Soviets.

"When you have a big enough earthquake, it releases enough energy to set the whole Earth ringing almost like a bell, and it rang for days after the 1960 earthquake," said Lucy Jones of the U.S. Geological Survey.

That 1960 quake had another impact. It convinced earthquake-threatened cities from Chile to California to toughen up building codes and beef up tsunami warning systems.

Black and white images taken back then show the start of a new age of earthquake science and preparedness.