Page last updated at 03:15 GMT, Saturday, 6 March 2010

Chile sacks official over tsunami alert

Amateur video shows tsunami sweeping through town of Penco

Chile has sacked the head of its oceanographic service following the devastating earthquake and tsunami.

The service, part of the Chilean navy, has been widely criticised for failing to issue a nationwide tsunami warning immediately after the quake.

The navy has also launched an inquiry into how the disaster was handled, a government statement said.

The official death toll has now been reduced to 452 from 800, but hundreds of people are still missing.

Deputy Interior Minister Patricio Rosende said this was the number of bodies which had been identified by relatives.

The previous death toll of 802 included more than 200 who should be listed as missing, as officials said. However, they did not give a figure for those still unaccounted for.

Meanwhile three powerful aftershocks rattled Chile on Friday.

The tremors were strong enough to bring down some damaged buildings in the second city of Concepcion.

Last Saturday's 8.8 magnitude earthquake, the seventh most powerful on record, was centred 115km (70 miles) north-east of Concepcion and 325km south-west of the capital Santiago.

'Diagnosis error'

The official statement said Commander Mariano Rojas had been removed from his post at the Hydrographic and Oceanographic Service (Shoa) because he had failed to provide a clear warning of the tsunami.

Port authorities in several coastal towns issued their own tsunami warnings, but a national alert never came.

Some experts have said the failure led to deaths.

An investigation will "determine responsibility and clear up the circumstances surrounding the decision-making process" in response to the quake, the statement added.

Military officials have admitted "an error of diagnosis" and said they transmitted "very unclear information" to President Michelle Bachelet on whether to lift or maintain a tsunami alert.

Nations around the Pacific issued their own tsunami alerts but the feared giant waves never materialised.

The Chilean navy has named Commander Patricio Carrasco as the new head of Shoa.

President Bachelet has said that Chile's reconstruction will take three to four years.

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