An enormous 8.2-magnitude earthquake struck Chile on Tuesday evening, creating landslides and cutting off power to thousands, with a possible tsunami to follow.
The earthquake was so powerful it was felt 300 miles away from its center in Bolivia’s capital, CBS News’ Vicente Arenas reports.
The quake hit at 8:46 pm, local time, and was located about 60 miles northwest of the town of Iquique.
There were five deaths directly related to the quake, four men and one woman – three were crushed, and two died from heart attacks, said Interior Minister Rodrigo Penailillo.
Due to the threats of a tsunami, thousands were evacuated from low-lying areas, but most began to return home as the Chilean tsunami alerts were lifted.
About 300 inmates escaped from a women’s prison in the city of Iquique, forcing the closure of the border with Peru, Penailillo said.
Chile previously experienced an 8.8-magnitude earthquake on February 27, 2010, when nearly 500 people were killed, which had residents on edge.
“Many people are fearful after experiencing the powerful earthquake in 2010, so they immediately fled for higher ground when they heard the tsunami warning,” said Fabrizio Guzman, World Vision emergency communications manager in Chile.
“There have been multiple aftershocks and communications have been cut off in many of the affected areas. So people are waiting in the dark hills not knowing what is to come, and hoping they will be able to return to their homes safely.”
The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center issued many tsunami warnings, but they were all canceled by early Wednesday.
The town of Iquique, with a population of more than 200,000, did see 7-foot waves.
“The fact is, we will know the extent of the damage as time goes by and when we inspect the areas in the light of day,” Chile’s President Michelle Bachelet said early Wednesday. “The country has faced these first emergency hours very well.”
What is most frightening is that Caltech has warned this isn’t the big one expected in Chile.
“This magnitude 8.2 is not the large earthquake that we were expecting in this area,” said Mark Simons, a geophysicist at Caltech in Pasadena, California. “We’re expecting a potentially even larger earthquake.”
It is expected, but it could be tomorrow or in the distant future. “We do not know when it’s going to occur,” he said.
Chile sits on an arc of volcanoes and fault lines circling the Pacific Ocean known as the “Ring of Fire.” This area sees frequent earthquakes and volcanic eruptions, however, there is an area that hasn’t been active lately and is expected to release some steam in the near future, explained Simons.
The area to the north and south of Tuesday’s quake “did not rupture in this event,” Simons said. And it’s “still an area that hasn’t ruptured in 140-odd years.”
Given that it’s an area of frequent quakes, and frequent ruptures, it may only be a matter of time.
“We expect another 8.8-8.9 earthquake here sometime in the future,” Simons said.
The U.S. National Tsunami Warning Center scrambled on Tuesday trying to determine the level of danger for the west coast so that early warnings could be issued, those areas possibly affected were: Alaska, Washington, Oregon and California, as well as Canada’s British Columbia.
The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center’s spokesman Gerard Fryer told CNN there is “clearly not going to be any hazards to the coastline of North America.”
The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center did issue a tsunami warning for Hawaii, saying strong currents may pose a hazard to swimmers and boaters.
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