The 8.2-magnitude earthquake that struck off the coast of northern Chile Tuesday evening was big — leaving at least six dead in its wake — and yet, scientists predict another bigger earthquake may be looming.
"This magnitude, 8.2, is not the large earthquake that we were expecting in this area," said Mark Simons, a geophysicist at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena.
"We're expecting a potentially even larger earthquake," he said. "It could be tomorrow. Or it could come in 50 years. We do not know when it's going to occur."
"The big question is, is this a foreshock to an even bigger earthquake to come?" said Rick Allmendinger, a geologist who specializes in earthquake analysis at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, and a visiting professor at the Universidad Católica del Norte in Antofagasta, Chile.
"It probably has not released all of the stored-up energy on the subduction earthquake fault in northern Chile," he said. "For the sake of all of our friends in the region, we're hoping that there isn't a bigger one still to come."
The quake struck around 8:46 p.m. local time and had a depth of 12.5 miles. Of the six known fatalities, four were blamed on heart attacks occurring during the quake. Two other victims were apparently crushed.
Nearly 928,000 people were evacuated, said the director of Chile's office of national emergency, Ricardo Toro.
The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center issued several warnings but canceled them by early Wednesday. Tsunami watches that initially extended as far north as Mexico's Pacific Coast were also canceled.
Officials say lives were saved because of the steps the Chile has taken in recent years to protect its people and structures in the event of an earthquake.
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