Damage is relatively minor and only six deaths reported from the powerful earthquake and resulting tsunami that struck near Chile on Tuesday at 8:46 p.m. local time (4:46 p.m. Pacific time). The temblor measured 8.2 in magnitude according to latest reports by U.S. Geological Survey and the Chile National Earthquake Center, and has been followed by a tsunami and several strong aftershocks, including one registering 6.2. The tsunami generated by the shaker has led to a tsunami advisory for Hawaii.
The earthquake (initially estimated at 8.0) struck 59 miles from Iquique, a coastal city with 180,000 residents located near the border with Peru and about 950 miles from Santiago, Chile’s capital. The sizable shaker prompted a tsunami warning by the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center for Chile, Peru, and Ecuador. Right after the quake, residents near the shore in coastal cities and on Easter Island were urged to evacuate to higher ground or further inland. Eleven hospitals near the coast were also evacuated. Evacuees spent the night in 18 shelters, including the area soccer stadium. A tsunami,created by the quake and waves and reportedly as high as seven feet, hit the cities of Iquique and Pisagua, which created some flooding and damage.
Initially, a tsunami warning was issued for the Pacific coast of South America, but the threat was later downgraded to high wave watches for Colombia, Panama, and Costa Rica. The warning was lifted this morning. There is still a tsunami advisory for Hawaii, but no expectations of widespread inland flooding. A tsunami advisory means strong currents or waves should be expected from a seismic event. This causes sea level changes endangering swimmers, boaters, and those along the shore. The initial waves from the Chilean quake reached Hawaiian shores around 3:24 a.m. (6:24 a.m. Pacific time) and the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center anticipates lifting the advisory around 8 a.m. Hawaii time Wednesday.
The deaths took place in Iquique (three from heart attacks), and there were a few serious injuries. Major damage was reported to three highways in the area, which have been shut down. The waves destroyed 40 boats in Iquique and more than 70 in Tarapaca. Otherwise and amazingly considering the magnitude, there was no significant damage amid the reports of some damaged buildings, fires from gas leaks, landslides, and damaged roads. Power and phone service went out in places. In fact, Chile deployed armed forces in the region after 300 inmates at a women’s prison took advantage of the quake and outages to escape. As of this morning, only 39 were still at large.
The people of Chile are used to quakes, living in one of the most prone areas in the world. Residents know the evacuation plans and are prepared. Tuesday’s temblor followed a noticeable string of smaller quakes over the past few weeks in the area, including a 6.7 shaker on March 16, so that fears were heightened that a larger quake was imminent.
The coast of Chile runs along the oceanic Nazca plate, which is being pushed beneath the South American continental plate. This creates pressure that can spawn significant earthquakes over magnitude 9. The strongest earthquake ever recorded was a magnitude 9.5 in central Chile in 1960 that killed over 5,000 and generated a tsunami that hit Hawaii and California. There was an 8.8 quake and tsunami in Chile in 2010 that killed over 500 people.
By Dyanne Weiss