A tsunami alert was issued for most of the Pacific Ocean basin following a magnitude 8.3 earthquake just off the coast of northern Chile early Wednesday night. The alert at first included Ecuador but a later report said that the country would probably only see higher than normal wave action on the coast.
By early Thursday morning, residents in several Ecuadorian communities north of Salinas reported strong waves, some of which over-washed streets and rock retaining walls.
Five people were killed and more than a million were ordered to evacuate areas of Chile’s northern coastline before waves as high as 17 feet washed ashore, inundating many communities. Officials in several communities reported widespread devastation.
The quake was centered about 25 miles offshore and 143 miles northwest of Santiago, Chile’s capital and home to more than five million. Within minutes after the 8.3 tremor, the region began feeling aftershocks, one registering 7.0 and another 5.9.
“We are in shock and in a very bad situation,” said Cristian Galleguillos, mayor of Coquimbo, a coastal city close to the epicenter. “There is great damage here and water is covering most of the city. We need help and we need it quickly,” he said.
Galleguillos said the city had lost power and that most Internet service had been cut.
A number of other coastal towns also reported flooding, including Concon, just south of Valparaiso.
Chile’s President Michelle Bachelet went on radio and television shortly after the earthquake and said she regretted the loss of life and urged those in coastal areas to move as quickly as possible to higher ground. “Yet again, Mother Nature has dealt us a major blow,” she said. “We must regroup quickly and help those in need.”
Located just east of the Nazca tectonic plate in the Pacific Ocean, Chile ranks as the world’s most earthquake-prone country. The country was rocked by an 8.8 magnitude quake in 2010 that killed hundreds. It also experienced the strongest earthquake ever recorded in 1960, when a 9.5 quake occurred just offshore, killing 6,000.