A major earthquake has rattled Chile, killing at least five people and shaking the Earth so strongly the tremor was felt in places across South America.
The magnitude-8.3 quake hit off northern Chile, causing buildings to sway in the capital of Santiago and prompting authorities to issue a tsunami warning for the Andean nation’s entire Pacific coast.
People sought safety in the streets of inland cities, while others along the shore took to their cars to get to higher ground.
Authorities are assessing damage in several coastal towns that saw flooding from small tsunami waves set off by the quake.
Authorities said five people had been killed and one was listed as missing.
“Once again we must confront a powerful blow from nature,” President Michelle Bachelet said in an address to the nation.
She urged people who evacuated from coastal areas to stay on high ground until authorities could evaluate the situation.
Numerous aftershocks, including one at magnitude 7 and four above 6, shook the region after the initial earthquake – the strongest tremor in the country since a powerful quake and tsunami killed hundreds in 2010 and levelled part of the city of Concepcion in south-central Chile.
Although officials cautioned it was too early to be sure, it appeared the latest quake had a much smaller impact than the 2010 tremor – a sign that Chile’s traditionally strong risk reduction measures and emergency planning have improved in the last five years.
The tremor was so strong that residents in Buenos Aires, Argentina, on the other side of the continent, reported feeling it. People in Peru and Brazil also felt the shakes, but no injuries were reported outside Chile.
Hawaii and part of California’s coast were issued with tsunami advisories after the quake.
The Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre originally issued a tsunami watch for Hawaii, but it was later downgraded to an advisory, saying that data indicated there would be no major tsunami in the state, but sea-level changes and dangerous currents could pose a threat to those in or near the water.
A similar advisory was issued for southern and central California, affecting about 300 miles of coastline from the southern end of Orange County to most of San Luis Obispo County on the central coast.
In Chile, authorities said some adobe houses collapsed in the inland city of Illapel, about 175 miles north of Santiago and 34 miles east of the quake’s epicentre.
Illapel’s mayor Denis Cortes told a local television station that a woman had been killed in the city but declined to give any details.
Electricity was knocked out, leaving the city in darkness. “We are very scared. Our city panicked,” Mr Cortes said.
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, riverfronts 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 recorded on Earth happened in Chile – a magnitude-9.5 tremor in 1960 that killed more than 5,000 people.