SANTIAGO (AFP/REUTERS) - A powerful 8.2-magnitude earthquake hit Chile’s Pacific coast on Tuesday, triggering tsunami warnings for coastal areas up South and Central America’s huge Pacific coast.
Five people were killed in the quake that struck at 8.46pm local time (2346 GMT) at a depth of 10km, 83km from Iquique on Chile’s northern coast.
The Hawaii-based Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre issued an alert for residents living along more than 4,800km of coastline and in nearby countries. It said waves of more than 2m had been generated.
Aside from Chile, the coasts of Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Panama, Costa Rica and Nicaragua were also at risk.
Chilean authorities and their Ecuadoran and Peruvian counterparts also issued warnings and Chile ordered people along the coast to move to higher ground.
Ecuador later reduced its alert from red to amber but maintained the higher level of vigilance on the exposed Galapagos Islands out in the Pacific.
Tremors were felt as far inland as Bolivia, and the quake was followed by a weaker 6.2 magnitude aftershock.
Mr Ricardo Toro of Chile’s National Emergency Office said: “The Hydrographic and Oceanographic Service of the Navy provides for the evacuation of the entire coastline of Chile.”
He said the first waves of the tsunami had reached Pisagua, on the northern coast, and were expected to travel south over five hours.
“The street lights were busted, people ran terrified. After the earthquake there were several aftershocks,” Ms Veronica Castillo told AFP from Arica, north of the Chilean capital Santiago.
The rush to evacuate to higher and safer areas caused traffic jams, but no cuts in telephone service or drinking water were reported. There were power outages in some areas.
Chile’s Deputy Interior Minister Mahmud Aleuy reported that in Iquique, the sea had withdrawn 2.5m from the coast, a prelude to the arrival of a dangerous surge.
Iquique is a key copper exporting port, close to the country’s main copper mines. Mining companies Codelco and BHP Billiton said they have not received reports of damage to mines. Collahuasi copper mine and port also said it has not reported any problems so far.
In Ecuador, President Rafael Correa said on Twitter: “Everyone along our coast should be alert and ready.”
In Peru, the southern coastal area was put on alert while roads along the coast were closed, said the mayor of the capital, Susana Villaran.
Peruvian naval commander Colbert Ruiz told AFP: “This is a warning for the population to take all precautionary measures.”
“An alert means being on watch but does not confirm the arrival of a tsunami,” he said. “So far, there is nothing.”
Chile is one of the most seismically active countries in the world, and a large earthquake has long been expected in the north of the country.
In February 2010, central and southern Chile were hit by a powerful earthquake of 8.8-magnitude followed by a tsunami that devastated dozens of towns. The quake left more than 500 dead and US$30 billion (S$38 billion) in damage to infrastructure.
The same coastal area has been the scene of numerous quakes in recent days. On Sunday, a 6.0-magnitude earthquake struck, followed by at least two moderate aftershocks.