A powerful magnitude-8.3 earthquake hit off Chile’s northern coast Wednesday night, causing flooding in coastal towns, damaging buildings, and knocking out power in the worst hit areas of central Chile, as well as shaking buildings in the capital city of Santiago about 175 miles to the south.
The earthquake hit 81 miles Northwest of the city of Iquique, near the town of Canela, just before 8pm local time at a depth of 5.2 miles, said the US Geological Survey.
Numerous strong aftershocks, including one measuring 7.0 magnitude and three above 6, rattled the region after the first major tremor since a powerful quake and tsunami that killed hundreds in 2010 and levelled part of the city of Concepcion in south-central Chile.
The Chilean government raised the death toll to eight people, officials ordered people to evacuate low-lying areas along the 2,400 miles (3,900 kilometers) of Chile’s Pacific shore, from Puerto Aysen in the south to Arica in the north.
The brunt of the damage was borne by coastal areas where houses and fishing-boats were smashed by waves. The coastal town of Coquimbo was hit by waves of up to 4.5 meters (15 feet) after the earthquake, Chile’s navy said.
The effects of the quake were also felt in Argentina, with eyewitness reports that the quake shook buildings in Buenos Aires. This video shows the quake rocking a swimming pool in the city of Tunuyan, in the west Argentinian province of Mendoza, around 95 miles east of Santiago.
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 – a magnitude-9.5 tremor in 1960 that killed more than 5,000 people.