A powerful magnitude-8.2 earthquake has struck off Chile's northern coast, causing landslides and setting off a tsunami.
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In the city of Arica, the mayor reported some minor injuries and said some homes made of adobe were destroyed. The quake shook modern buildings in nearby Peru and in Bolivia's high altitude capital of La Paz.
The US Geological Survey initially reported the quake at 8.0, but later upgraded the magnitude. It said the quake struck 99 kilometres northwest of the Chilean city of Iquique at 8.46pm (12.46pm NZT), hitting a region that has been rocked by numerous quakes over the past two weeks.
The quake was so strong that the shaking experienced in Bolivia's capital about 470km away was the equivalent of a 4.5-magnitude tremor, authorities there said.
At least eight strong aftershocks followed in the first few hours, including a 6.2 tremor. More aftershocks and even a larger quake could not be ruled out, said seismologist Mario Pardo at the University of Chile.
Some roads in northern Chile were blocked by landslides, causing traffic jams among people leaving the coast.
Coastal residents of northern Chile evacuated calmly as waves measuring almost 2m struck their cities ahead of a tsunami that was expected to come ashore later.
Evacuations also were ordered in Peru, where waves 2m above normal forced about 200 people to leave the seaside town of Boca del Rio. But there were no injuries or major damage, said Col. Enrique Blanco, the regional police chief in Tacna, a Peruvian city of 300,000 near the Chilean border. "The lights went out briefly, but were re-established," Blanco said.
A tsunami alert was issued by the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center for all of Latin America's Pacific coast, and Chile's Emergency Office warned that a large tsunami wave was expected to hit Robinson Crusoe island and others in the Juan Fernandez archipelago, hundreds of kilometres off Chile's central coast, just before midnight local time.
Authorities in the US state of Hawaii were on alert, but no tsunami watch was issued. The tsunami centre said any higher waves would hit Hawaii starting 3.24am Hawaii Standard Time. There was no threat to New Zealand.
Chile is one of the world's most earthquake-prone countries. A magnitude-8.8 quake and ensuing tsunami in central Chile in 2010 killed more than 500 people, destroyed 220,000 homes, and washed away docks, riverfronts and seaside resorts.
The strongest earthquake ever recorded on Earth also happened in Chile - a magnitude-9.5 tremor in 1960 that killed more than 5000 people.
Hundreds of earthquakes have shaken Chile's far-northern coast in the past two weeks, keeping people on edge as scientists said there was no way to tell if the unusual string of tremors was a harbinger of an impending disaster.
The unnerving activity began with a strong magnitude-6.7 quake on March 16 that caused more than 100,000 people to briefly evacuate low-lying areas, although no tsunami materialized and there was little physical damage from the shaking.
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