A massive 8.8-magnitude earthquake, capable of tremendous damage, struck southern Chile early today, shaking buildings in the capital, where some buildings collapsed.
A tsunami warning was issued.
The quake hit 197 miles southwest of the capital, Santiago, and at a depth of 36.9 miles at 3.34am (06.34am Irish time), the US Geological Survey reported.
Its epicentre was just 75 miles from Concepcion, Chile's second-largest city, where more than 200,000 people live along the Bio-Bio river, and 60 miles from the ski town of Chillan, a gateway to Andean ski resorts that was destroyed in a 1939 earthquake.
Buildings shook and collapsed in Santiago. Phone lines were down in the country, making confirmation of damage difficult, especially further south toward the epicentre. The quake was felt in Argentina as well.
The Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre issued a warning for Chile and Peru, and a less-urgent tsunami watch for Ecuador, Colombia, Panama, Costa Rica and Antarctica.
"An earthquake of this size has the potential to generate a destructive tsunami that can strike coastlines near the epicentre within minutes and more distant coastlines within hours," the centre said.
The US West Coast Tsunami Warning centre said it did not expect a tsunami along the west of the US or Canada but was continuing to monitor the situation.
The Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre said: "Sea level readings indicate a tsunami was generated. It may have been destructive along coasts near the earthquake epicentre and could also be a threat to more distant coasts," the centre said.
The largest earthquake ever recorded struck Chile on May 22 1960. The magnitude-9.5 quake killed 1,655 people and left two million homeless.
The tsunami that it caused killed people in Hawaii, Japan and the Philippines and caused damage to the west coast of the US.