ILLAPEL, Chile — A powerful 8.3-magnitude earthquake struck Chile, generating a nearly 16-foot wave, prompting the evacuation of about 1 million people and triggering tsunami advisories as far away as California.
Authorities reported at least five deaths. The quake hit Wednesday night with its epicenter 29 miles west of Illapel, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. Some of the fatalities occurred in Illapel, where homes sustained a lot of damage.
“The first thing we want to say is that we regret the deaths of five Chilean citizens,” Undersecretary of the Interior Mahmud Aleuy said.
He said the government sends its condolences to their relatives.
The quake had a depth of 15.5 miles, the USGS said.
Chile’s national emergency agency issued a tsunami alert, ordering evacuations in coastal areas from Arica to Puerto Aysen.
Large tsunami waves washed along the Chilean coast near the quake’s epicenter. In Coquimbo, a 15.6-foot wave became the largest to land on the shores of Chile, according to the U.S. National Tsunami Warning center.
Tsunami advisories were issued thousands of miles away, including in Hawaii and California.
A tsunami advisory was issued for the coastal areas of Southern California, which means strong currents are likely and residents should stay away from the shore.
Los Angeles, Orange and San Diego counties warned residents to stay away from beaches and harbors due to the chances of strong currents. But authorities in the three counties said land inundation is not expected.
“Widespread hazardous tsunami waves are possible” along the coast of Chile and Peru, the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center said, and a tsunami watch is in effect for Hawaii.
A tsunami watch is issued “to alert emergency management officials and the public of an event which may later impact the watch area,” the center says. A warning is issued when a “potential tsunami with significant widespread inundation is imminent or expected.”
Even New Zealand, which is 6,000 miles away from the quake’s epicenter, issued a tsunami warning.
Strong tidal currents and large waves are expected in some areas, said Shane Bayley of New Zealand’s Ministry of Civil Defence.
In La Serena, a coastal city just north of Coquimbo, pictures taken at a shopping mall showed walls and signs toppled to the floor, ceiling tiles caved in as well as chairs, benches and tables covered in rubble.
Coquimbo Mayor Cristian Galleguillos said 95 percent of the city had lost electrical power. Residents evacuated before waves started hitting the coastline, he said.
‘Earthquake felt really intense’
More than a dozen aftershocks of magnitude 4.9 or higher rattled residents. Some could be felt in the country’s capital, about 145 miles away from the quake’s epicenter.
“Everybody ran outside. The windows rattled. Things fell. … The impact was strong,” said Emily Hersh, who lives in Santiago. “Even after I stepped outside, I felt the ground moving.”
The earthquake hit during rush hour, causing traffic snarls that left many people stuck in the streets as they tried to get home, said Fabrizio Guzman, emergency communications manager for World Vision in Chile.
“There were many people afraid, running in the streets, when the shaking started,” he said in a statement. “The earthquake felt really intense and seemed to last for several minutes.”
‘Ring of Fire’
Chile is in one of the most earthquake-prone regions in the world.
The country sits on an arc of volcanoes and fault lines circling the Pacific Ocean known as the “Ring of Fire.” The area experiences frequent earthquakes and volcanic eruptions.
Since 1973, Chile has had more than a dozen quakes of magnitude-7.0 and above.