An 8.3 magnitude earthquake has hit central Chile, with the Chilean national emergency agency issuing a tsunami alert for its entire coast. In some regions, waves of more than four meters have been reported.
Government officials have confirmed five people have died, and over a million people have been evacuated.
The quake struck at 19:54 local time (16/09/2015), with the epicenter about 55km west of the city of Illapel, and a depth of around 10km, according to the US Geological Survey. Strong aftershocks were reported shortly afterward, and buildings swayed in the capital of Santiago, located around 230km from the quake’s epicenter.
Tremors were also felt as far as the Argentinian capital - Buenos Aires - located 1,110 kilometers away. The quake struck in the lead up to the Chilean Independence Day on September 18, which sees a large portion of the country on vacation and headed to the coastal regions.
Officials have also issued evacuations in shallow areas along Chile's Pacific shore, from Puerto Aysen in the south to Arica in the north. Emergency indicators in some of these low-lying regions state that people need to be 30-40 kilometers away from the shore to reach minimum safe distance. This alone has the potential to create transport and pedestrian chaos.
“I was right at one of the biggest surf breaks in Chile, a national holiday is in two days, the entire country is on vacation starting today, so beaches are packed,” Jonathan Franklin, The Guardian’s Chile correspondent, said.
“The wine glasses started to shake and the kids started to scream, it was a very long quake, it must have been about two minutes long.”
“People are terrified ... Already, we’re hearing reports of buildings collapsing, and also of rock slides, there’s a lot of really arid, mountainous zones here, and electricity out.
The Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre also says “widespread hazardous tsunami waves” are possible along the coasts of Peru and Hawaii. Chile - which sites on an arc of volcanoes and fault lines called the ‘Ring Of Fire’ - is one of the most earthquake-prone regions in the world - with more than a dozen quakes of magnitude 7.0 or higher since 1970.
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