At least eight people are dead and one million have had to flee their homes after a powerful earthquake hit central Chile at 7.54pm local time Wednesday, the government there has confirmed.
The tremor measured 8.4 on the Richter scale and its epicenter was in Illapel, around 200 kilometers north of Santiago, the capital.
President Michelle Bachelet addressed the nation from La Moneda Palace, explaining that information regarding victims and damage is being constantly updated and remains partial at this time.
The US Pacific Tsunami Warning Center has extended the tsunami alert to Ecuador, Peru and Hawaii
The government may decree a state of emergency, she added. Affected regions have been declared natural disaster zones, which will help speed up aid to the needy.
Chile has now canceled a tsunami alert it had issued along most of its coast. The National Emergency Office said the coastline between Arica and Los Lagos had been evacuated.
According to the National Seismology Center at Chile University, the epicenter of the quake was located 36 kilometers west of the municipality of Canela, at a depth of 11 kilometers.
“We have received reports of damage to adobe homes in the community of Illapel,” said Interior Minister Jorge Burgos. “The tremor was felt from Arica to Puerto Aysén.”
The United States Pacific Tsunami Warning Center extended the tsunami alert to Ecuador, Peru and Hawaii.
The local media is informing about the presence of moderate waves in different coastal locations, and reporting that the sea movement could continue for another 13 hours or so.
In Peru, the main coastal road to Lima, the Costa Verde, has been closed to traffic because of the tsunami alert.
Among those known to have died in the quake are Lissette Araya Silva, 35, who was crushed by a falling roof; Victoria Gloria Jofré, 20, who died in a rock slide; Luis Damaris, 67, who died in hospital after suffering a cardiac arrest; Renato Salazar Díaz, 91, and Humberto Fernández, 81, who also died of heart failure.
The tremor was long and coincided with rush hour as people left their workplaces. This meant that most offices were empty as people headed home.
Video: The moment when the quake hit.
Coastal towns were especially busy on these days as Chile is holding its national festivities this weekend.
The country is well prepared to deal with earthquakes. The infrastructure is built to withstand powerful tremors, and the population is routinely drilled in proper earthquake response – especially after the 2010 tragedy that left 700 dead and a 1.5 million people homeless.
With additional reporting by Jacqueline Fowks.
English version by Susana Urra.