At least eight people have been killed and more than a million forced to evacuate their homes following a major earthquake in Chile.
Several coastal towns were flooded from small tsunami waves set off by the quake, which shook the Earth so strongly that rumbles were felt across South America.
The magnitude-8.3 quake that hit off northern Chile on Wednesday night lasted for three minutes and prompted authorities to issue a tsunami warning for the nation’s entire Pacific coast.
President Michelle Bachelet urged people who had been evacuated to stay on high ground until authorities could fully evaluate the situation. Officials said schools would be closed in most of the country on Thursday.
In the past year, the nation of 17 million has endured devastating floods in the north, wildfires in the south and two volcano eruptions.
“Once again we must confront a powerful blow from nature,” said Ms Bachelet.
Authorities said at least eight people had been killed. Mahmud Aleuy, the Interior Ministry’s deputy secretary, said one million people were forced out of their homes and electrical power was cut off to 240,000 households.
Numerous aftershocks, including one at magnitude-7 and four above 6, shook the region after the initial earthquake – the strongest tremor since a powerful quake and tsunami killed hundreds in 2010.
Tsunami advisories were in effect for Hawaii and parts of California. The Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre originally issued a tsunami watch for Hawaii but downgraded the alert to an advisory. Tsunami warnings in Chile were lifted early on Thursday.
The tremor was so strong that people in Buenos Aires, Argentina, on the other side of the continent, felt it. People in Peru and Brazil also reported feeling the shakes. No injuries were reported outside of Chile.
A magnitude-8.8 quake and ensuing tsunami in south-central Chile in 2010 killed more than 500 people, destroyed 220,000 homes, and washed away docks, river fronts and seaside resorts. That quake released so much energy it shortened the Earth’s day by a fraction of a second by changing the planet’s rotation.
Chile is one of the world’s most earthquake-prone countries because just off the coast the Nazca tectonic plate plunges beneath the South American plate, pushing the towering Andes cordillera to ever-higher altitudes. The strongest earthquake ever recorded on Earth happened in Chile – a magnitude-9.5 tremor in 1960 that killed more than 5,000 people.