SALT LAKE CITY – Leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Chile are actively assisting in relief efforts and determining how the Church can be of most assistance in the wake of one of the most powerful earthquakes of the last century. With over half a million Latter-day Saints living in the country, the Church has a substantial presence in Chile.

Local leaders and members began relief efforts shortly after the quake distributing food and water already located in Concepción. Early reports indicate three Church members have died.

Church leaders have identified that food, water, tents, blankets, hygiene kits and sleeping mats are needed to assist people in the affected region. Representatives of the Church in Chile have been in contact with the country’s Interior Ministry to determine how the Church can most appropriately assist in relief efforts. Emergency response personnel at Church headquarters are poised to provide assistance as appropriate.

“While any loss of life and destruction of great magnitude is a tragedy, we don’t anticipate that the situation in Chile will be nearly as devastating as what we’ve seen in Haiti,” said Lynn Samsel, director of emergency response for the Church.

Most Latter-day Saint meetinghouses in Chile fared well in the quake, though many are filled with dust. At least three meetinghouses suffered extensive structural damage, and another was severely flooded. A house that also served as a meetinghouse was swept away in the tsunami triggered by the earthquake.

Contact has been made with all missionaries. All are reported safe and many are assisting in relief efforts. Missionaries who are unable to return to their apartments are staying with members or in meetinghouses. While communication has been somewhat unreliable for local Church leaders, they have had their best success communicating through text messages.

The epicenter of the magnitude 8.8 earthquake was located off the central coast of Chile, causing significant damage in the nearby cities of Santiago and Concepción.

The shaking lasted about three minutes, buckling highways and snapping utility lines. Transportation, communication and electrical power were severed across much of the country. Chilean officials have confirmed more than 720 people died in the earthquake, with more confirmed casualties expected in the coming days.

An estimated two million Chileans have been affected by the earthquake, with at least 500,000 homes sustaining considerable damage. Dozens of aftershocks, some registering as high as 6.9 on the Richter scale, continued to rattle the region over the weekend.