CHILE: Coastal areas evacuated after magnitude 8.2 quake - KMSP-TV

TSUNAMI ALERT: Coastal areas evacuated after magnitude 8.2 quake hits Chile

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After a week marked by hundreds of earthquakes, Chilean authorities have ordered evacuations of coastal areas in case a tsunami follows the magnitude 8.2 earthquake that struck on Tuesday night.

No immediate reports of injuries have emerged; however, landslides left several roads blocked, causing traffic jams among evacuees.

The U.S. Geological Survey gave a the preliminary magnitude estimate of 8.0 but later upgraded it to 8.2 with the epicenter located 61 miles northwest of Iquique.

The tremor shook buildings in the nearby nations of Bolivia and Peru. In fact, the shaking was so strong Bolivia's capital, located about 290 miles away, was equivalent to a 4.5-magnitude tremor.

Waves measuring 2 meters were already striking coastal cities when the quake occurred, and authorities expect a tsunami may come ashore later. Local television reports showed residents calmly evacuating the area.

At least 10 strong aftershocks followed in the hours immediately following the quake, with one measuring a 6.2. Mario Pardo, a seismologist at the University of Chile, told the Associated Press that additional aftershocks, possibly even a larger quake, could not be ruled out.

The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center has issued an alert for the entire Latin American coast, including as far north as Mexico and Panama. Authorities in Hawaii were on alert, but no tsunami watch was issued. The tsunami center said any higher waves would hit Hawaii starting 3:24 a.m. Hawaii Standard Time.

Chilean emergency officials predict that a large tsunami wave will hit Robinson Crusoe island and others in the Juan Fernandez archipelago just before midnight local time. Chile's Easter Island, much farther off in the Pacific, was expected to get hit after midnight Wednesday.

QUAKE WAS ONE OF MANY

The quake struck at 8:46 p.m. in an area that has been shaken by more than 300 quakes in the last week alone, leaving scientists to wonder whether the unusual string of tremors could be a harbinger of impending disaster.

The Associated Press reported that the odd seismological activity began with a magnitude 6.7 quake that struck on March 16 and led to the brief evacuation of more than 100,000 people from low-lying areas. No tsunami followed and little physical damage was found; however, the land didn't settle down. In fact, a dozen perceptible quakes were felt in Iquique on Monday alone.

EARTHQUAKES COMMON, POTENTIALLY DEVASTATING IN CHILE

Due to its proximity to the Nazca tectonic plate, Chile is one of the world's most earthquake-prone countries. Just off the country's 2,500-mile coastline, the plate plunges beneath the South American plate, pushing the Andes Mountains higher while contributing to the seismic activity along the Pacific coast.

A large earthquake in the northern portion of the country could threaten Chile's economy since that is where the copper mining industry, which leads the world in production, is located.

In 2010, a magnitude 8.8 earthquake and the tsunami that followed not only killed more than 500 people and destroyed nearly a quarter of a million homes, but the massive release of energy also shortened the length of the Earth's day slightly by altering the planet's rotation. Docks, river fronts and seaside resorts were also washed away in that disaster.

Yet, that quake pales in comparison to the magnitude 9.5-quake that killed more than 5,000 people in 1960. To date, that remains the strongest earthquake ever recorded on Earth.

To give a sense of scale, the earthquake that pummeled the coastline of Japan -- another earthquake-prone country -- in 2011 measured a 9.0 magnitude and originated 43 miles off the coast before triggering tsunami waves of 133 feet that traveled as far as 6 miles inland, shifting the Earth's so-called "figure axis" by as much as 6.5 inches and shortening the day by 1.8 milliseconds, according to estimates from NASA scientist Dr. Richard S. Gross.


Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.

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