The suit by relatives of Nancy and Eliana Lema Morales targets any state officials who may be responsible for their deaths for failing to warn them of a deadly tsunami set off by last month’s tremor. The sisters were killed in the Dichato fishing village by a 7m tsunami triggered by the February 27 earthquake.
The 8.8 magnitude quake killed 500 people and some 200 more have disappeared, according to the government, most of them after being swept away by tsunamis.
The Lema Morales family says that following the quake the emergency office, known as ONEMI, and a navy unit charged with monitoring the seas failed to issue a tsunami warning.
Separately, the attorney general’s office opened an investigation on February 16 into whether the ONEMI and the navy should be held responsible for deaths for not issuing a tsunami alert.
The family said they hurried to the top of a hill in a car fearing a tsunami was on its way, but then decided to go back to Dichato when they heard officials on the radio saying a tidal wave was not moving toward the coast.
“We left the car some 70m from the house. I came in and it was in one piece … (then) I heard the car horn and saw that the sea had leveled everything,” said Eliana Lema’s widower, Hugo Fuentealba, in the lawsuit.
“The water swallowed me up (but) I grabbed hold of a tree. The water went down and I saw that my wife was dead inside the car. My sister-in-law was found 200m away, also dead,” Fuentealba wrote.
A navy officer appeared on state TV network TVN soon after the quake saying the navy issued no warning because there were only minor fluctuations in the sea.
Former President Michelle Bachelet, whose term ended on March 11, also announced after the quake that coastal villages should not fear a tsunami.