17 Sep 2015

Eight dead, one million evacuated after Chile quake

11:58 pm on 17 September 2015

Chile has evacuated one million residents along its coastline, following a powerful earthquake which left eight dead and triggered tsunami waves of up to 4.5 metres.

The 8.3 magnitude quake was centred off the coast, about 232km north-west of capital Santiago.

Women outside a building after the quake in Chile.

Photo: AFP

Interior Minister Jorge Burgos told a news conference that the port of Coquimbo had suffered severe damage. He said it was the largest quake in the world this year.

The tsunami warning for Chile has now been lifted.

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One person was killed by a falling wall, while four others also died and evacuation was ordered in coastal areas. Tsunami sirens were heard in the port of Valparaiso.

Chilean officials say the earthquake has produced waves of up to 4.5m along the coast in the region of Coquimbo.

President Michelle Bachelet said she planned to travel to the areas worst affected by the quake, the biggest to hit the world's top copper producer in five years.

The quake was felt as far away as Buenos Aires in Argentina.

Tsunami alerts are also in place for New Zealand and several other islands in the Pacific, with waves of 1-3m expected.

People in the city of Valparaiso keep a close eye on the shoreline after a massive quake hit off the Chilean coast.

People in the city of Valparaiso keep a close eye on the shoreline after a massive quake hit off the Chilean coast. Photo: AFP

More on tsunami alerts for New Zealand and the Pacific

A video posted by ABC News to Facebook appears to show high water sweeping through streets in Chile.

A video posted by ABC News to Facebook shows high water sweeping through streets in Chile. Photo: ABC News / Facebook

The earthquake struck just off the coast at 7.54pm local time on Wednesday (10.54am Thursday NZST), about 55km west of the city of Illapel, the US Geological Survey said.

Officials said it was at the depth of about 10km.

The US Geological Survey initially reported the tremor as magnitude 7.9, but then quickly revised the reading to 8.3.

Several strong aftershocks were reported just minutes later.

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The earthquake struck off the coast of Chile at about 11am NZST. Photo: US Geological Survey

A New Zealander in Chile, Constance Lockhart Adams, was at a cocktail function at the Chilean Army Governor General's home when the quake hit.

"The room started kind of swaying quite slowly to start with and then it just ... went for it. I haven't been in an earthquake before so I didn't know what was going on but everybody else around me has been in many earthquakes," she said.

"It felt like it went on forever. It was a really long, crazy process. The aftershocks are still happening now. It's been a pretty crazy night."

A woman carries belongings out of a store in Concon.

A woman carries belongings out of a store in Concon. Photo: AFP

Illapel Mayor Denis Cortes reported one person was killed by a collapsing wall, and 15 other people were injured.

Some homes were reportedly damaged in the city.

"Tsunami waves reaching more than three metres above the tide level are possible along some coasts of Chile," the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center warned shortly after the quake.

The earthquake struck as thousands of Chileans have been travelling to the coast ahead of a week of celebrations of the national holidays, or Fiestas Patrias.

Tsunami alerts have also been issued for Peru, Hawaii and parts of California.

The quake was also strongly felt in some Argentine provinces like Mendoza and in the capital, Buenos Aires, several buildings were evacuated, the BBC reported.

Chile is one of the most seismically active locations on the globe.

It runs along the boundary between the Nazca and South American tectonic plates. These are vast slabs of the Earth's surface that grind past each other at a rate of up to 80mm per year.

In February 2010, a 8.8 magnitude struck off central Chile, killing more than 500 people.