Latin America Closes Oil Facilities, Ports on Tsunami Alert

Latin American governments from Mexico to Chile closed Pacific coast ports, oil pipelines, roads and schools on tsunami alerts after Japan was hit by its strongest earthquake on record.

Chile will close its northern ports of Iquique and Antofagasta tonight, while Mexico shut three ports and Ecuador’s state oil company PetroEcuador suspended crude oil shipments from its Esmeraldas refinery after the 8.9-magnitude quake triggered a warning from the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center. Peru, the world’s largest fishmeal producer, suspended fishing in the southern port of Pisco and closed a coastal road in its capital.

“This is a preventative alert,” Chile’s President Sebastian Pinera told reporters today. “If there are any consequences from the earthquake and tsunamis that hit Japan, they would occur in the last hours of the day.”

Earthquakes in Chile in 2010 and Peru in 2007 spurred flooding, killing hundreds of people and causing tens of billions of dollars in damage. Port closures in Chile, the world’s largest copper producer, may delay shipments by Codelco and Xstrata Plc, the companies said.

Two-meter high waves hit California, damaging boats, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Ecuador President Rafael Correa invoked emergency powers, giving the police and military control over the Andean country’s coast.

Coastal areas of Chile’s Easter Island are being evacuated and people on the Galapagos Islands were ordered to take higher ground as tour ships moved toward deeper water. Colombia’s biggest port, Buenaventura, is on alert.

Galapagos Visitors

Waves generated by the quake may reach the Chilean coast, after 9 p.m., Onemi, Chile’s emergency service, said on its website. Waves may reach Peru’s coast about 6 p.m. New York time, President Alan Garcia told reporters in Lima.

Galapagos tour operator Lindblad Expeditions keeps two ships in the islands year-round and has ordered them to stay away from the coast with their guests aboard, spokeswoman Patty Disken-Cahill said via e-mail.

The Chilean port of Valparaiso is asking ships to abandon its terminals in anticipation of the waves, the port authority, Empresa Portuaria Valparaiso, said in an e-mailed statement. Nearby San Antonio port also is telling ships to leave by 6 p.m. New York time, Operations Director Edmundo Silva said by phone.

Ecuador Shuts Oil Pipeline

Easter Island suspended school classes and is preparing to evacuate people living near the coast, island Governor Carmen Cardinali told state television station TVN. Schools and government offices on the Chilean mainland will remain open, Pinera said this morning. The Galapagos Islands aren’t under an evacuation order, Luis Alvarez, a press officer at the Heritage Coordination Ministry, said in a phone interview from Quito.

Ecuador’s heavy crude oil pipeline operator, Oleoductos de Crudos Pesados Ecuador SA, known as OCP, said in a statement it suspended oil shipments today because of the tsunami.

Codelco, Chile’s state-run copper company, said all ports it uses to ship copper will close today. Empresa Nacional del Petroleo, Chile’s state oil refiner known as Enap, has contingency plans for a possible tsunami, said a company official briefed on the matter. Enap’s refineries in central and southern Chile are operating normally, the official, who declined to be named, said by telephone today.

Lima’s port of Callao and low-lying, heavily populated areas such as La Punta may be evacuated tonight, according to the head of Civil Defense, General Luis Palomino. Schools were closed in areas along Peru’s northern and central coast.

Today’s temblor shook buildings across Tokyo and unleashed a tsunami as high as seven meters, engulfing towns along the northern coast. At least 300 people were killed by the 23-foot wave and many are missing, according to Japanese police. State broadcaster NHK Television showed footage of flood waters sweeping away buildings and vehicles.

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