A MAJOR earthquake just off the Chilean shore killed five people, forced one million to evacuate and shook the Earth so strongly the tremor was felt across South America.
Several coastal towns were flooded from small tsunami waves set off by the quake.
The magnitude-8.3 quake that hit off northern Chile on Wednesday night lasted for three minutes, 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 on the coast took to their cars to race to higher ground.
“Once again we must confront a powerful blow from nature,” President Michelle Bachelet said in an address to the nation.
Five people died and one person was listed as missing, said Mahmud Aleuy, the interior ministry’s deputy secretary. He added one million people were forced out of their homes and electrical power was cut off to 240,000 households.
Ms Bachelet urged people evacuated from coastal areas to stay on high ground until authorities could fully evaluate the situation. Officials said schools would be closed in most of the country yesterday.
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 and leveled part of the city of Concepcion in south-central Chile.
Tsunami advisories were in effect for Hawaii and parts of California. The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center originally issued a tsunami watch for Hawaii but downgraded the alert to an advisory. Although officials cautioned it was too early to know for sure, it appeared Wednesday’s quake had a much smaller impact than the 2010 tremor. Chile’s traditionally strong risk reduction measures and emergency planning have improved in the last five years.
“Earthquake impact is a little like real estate: what matters is location, location, location,” said Susan Hough, a geophysicist with the US Geological Survey. “But it is true that preparedness and risk reduction in Chile is ahead of much of the world, and that makes a difference.”
The tremor was so strong that people in Buenos Aires, Argentina, on the other side of the continent, reported feeling it, as did people in Peru and Brazil. No injuries were reported outside of Chile.
Claudio Moreno was in a Santiago bar when the quake hit. The shaking was powerful, but more worrisome was how long it lasted, he said.
“We went out in the street when we felt it was going on too long,” he said. “It was more than a minute.”
Authorities said some adobe houses collapsed in the inland city of Illapel, 175 miles north of Santiago and 34 miles east of the quake’s epicenter. Illapel mayor Denis Cortes told a local television station that a woman had been killed in the city but declined to give any details.