Tsunami warning after powerful earthquake hits Chile

People evacuate a shopping mall in Santiago after a powerful earthquake hit off Chile's northern coast. Photo: Agencia Uno/AP
People evacuate a shopping mall in Santiago after a powerful earthquake hit off Chile's northern coast. Photo: Agencia Uno/AP

Santiago: A powerful 8.3-magnitude earthquake has struck off the central coast of Chile, causing buildings to sway in the capital Santiago and triggering a tsunami warning.

At least 11 people were confirmed dead on Thursday evening, while

one million people had been evacuated.

Tsunami alarms sounded in the port of Valparaiso and authorities issued a tsunami alert for Chile's entire coast. At least three aftershocks above magnitude-6 hit the area minutes after the initial quake.

Witnesses said the powerful quake was felt as far away as the Argentine capital, Buenos Aires, on the eastern seaboard of South America.

A 26-year-old woman was killed by a collapsing wall and another person died from a heart attack, according to media reports.

The coastal town of Coquimbo was hit by waves of up to 4.5 metres after the earthquake, Chile's navy said.

"We're going through a really grave situation with the tsunami. We have residential neighbourhoods that have flooded .... the ocean has reached the (Coquimbo) downtown area," said Coquimbo Mayor Cristian Galleguillos.

The inland city of Illapel, about 46 km from the epicentre, was without electricity or drinking water. People fled their damaged homes and poured into the streets, the mayor said.

Waves of up to three metres are possible along the coast of French Polynesia, the Pacific Tsunami Centre (PTWC) in Hawaii said on Thursday.

The PTWC also issued an alert for tsunami waves of between 0.3 to 1 metres for Japan, Antarctica, and most of the South Pacific, including New Zealand, Fiji, Tonga, Vanuatu and the Solomon Islands.

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Hazardous tsunami waves were possible along the coasts of Chile and also Peru within the next several hours, while a tsunami watch was also issued for Hawaii.

State copper miner Codelco said it had suspended mining operations at its Andina mine and that it had evacuated workers from its Ventanas smelter. Antofagasta Plc said it had halted operations at its flagship Los Pelambres copper mine and would wait until daybreak to assess damage.

Tsunami advisories were issued for parts of South America and as far away as Hawaii, California and French Polynesia.

In April 2014, an 8.2-magnitude quake struck near the northern city of Iquique.

In February 2010, an 8.8-magnitude earthquake in central-southern Chile triggered a massive tsunami, and more than 500 people were killed.

In the hours following that quake, Ms Bachelet and other government officials misjudged the extent of damage and declined offers of international aid. That delayed the flow of assistance to disaster areas, leaving many survivors feeling they had been abandoned by the government.

Compounding matters, the Chilean navy's catastrophe-alert system failed to warn the population of impending tsunamis, leaving hundreds who survived the initial quake to be engulfed by massive waves that followed.

Ms Bachelet's government was also slow to prevent looting following the quake.

Newsweek published pictures showing people gathering at a tsunami-safe zone.

Australian rapper Urthboy is in Chile and tweeted that he felt the earthquake strike.

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 in 1960, when a magnitude-9.5 quake killed more than 5,000 people.

AP, Reuters with Fairfax Media

This story Tsunami warning after powerful earthquake hits Chile first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.