Just after noon on Sunday, March 28, a powerful 90-second earthquake registering between 6.5 and 7.5 on the Richter scale struck the Santiago, Valparaiso, and Coquimbo provinces of central Chile. Although the epicenter was about 80 miles north of the Chilean capital of Santiago, the quake was felt as far away as Buenos Aires, about 700 miles distant. Between March 28 and 29, 14 major aftershocks shook the Aconcagua Valley.
In Valparaiso, Chile’s second largest city, with 300,000 residents, the earthquake damaged or destroyed 40 percent of the private dwellings. In the town of Llay-Llay, 8,000 people fled their homes to camp in the safer outdoors. At Los Andes and San Felipe, 80 to 90 percent of homes were destroyed. Mudslides triggered by the tremors killed 300 people in the mining community of El Cobre, about 100 miles north of Santiago. The earthquake killed 400 people, rendered 250,000 homeless, and destroyed $200 million in property.
On April 1, President Johnson approved an aid request from President Eduardo Frei Montalva of Chile, who identified the most urgent needs to the U.S. ambassador, Ralph A. Dungan. On April 2, C–130s belonging to the 463d Troop Carrier Wing of Langley AFB, Virginia, on rotational duty with the USAF South Command at Howard AFB in the Panama Canal Zone, began to airlift relief supplies to Santiago.
Between April 2 and 13, four C–130 Hercules airplanes transported 55 tons of food, tents, medicine, and clothing to Chile. Some cargo was collected at McGuire AFB, New Jersey, from donors in New York and Pennsylvania. The Air Force planes carried a fraction of the relief supplies that poured into Chile from governments and private charities around the world.