A strong 7.9-magnitude earthquake has struck the centre of Chile, triggering a tsunami alert that stretched to Peru and the evacuation of coastal areas.
There were no immediate reports of injury or major damage, a government emergency agency said, but terrified residents rushed on to the streets in Chile’s capital Santiago and in Argentina.
The United States Geological Survey (USGS) put the shallow offshore quake at a magnitude of 7.9 and said it hit just 228 kilometres north of Santiago.
Tsunami alarms sounded in the port of Valparaiso and authorities issued a tsunami alert for Chile’s entire coast. At least three aftershocks above magnitude-6 hit the area minutes after the initial quake.
Waves of up to three metres are possible along the coast of French Polynesia, the Pacific Tsunami Center (PTWC) in Hawaii said.
The Chilean government put the earthquake at 8.0 on the Richter scale. Chile’s Interior Minister Jorge Burgos said that the evacuation of coastal towns and cities was ordered as a precautionary measure.
A tsunami warning has been issued for a number of other regions as well, according to SMH, including Japan, Antarctica, and most of the South Pacific, including New Zealand, Fiji, Tonga, Vanuatu and the Solomon Islands.
For NZ, the Ministry of Civil Defence & Emergency Management recommends people in those areas should stay out of the water, away from beaches and listen for updates. The first tsunami activity may reach New Zealand in the areas around East Cape around midnight, it says.
It warns it may be later and the first activity may not be the most significant. Tsunami activity will continue for several hours and the threat must be regarded as real until the warning is cancelled, it said.
The quake was felt as far away as Buenos Aires, in Argentina, about 1400 kilometres away, while a tsunami warning was in place for the whole of Chile and Peru’s Pacific coastline.
The Hawaii-based Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre said that “hazardous” tsunami waves were possible for some coasts, including above three metres of the tide level along parts of Chile’s shoreline.
In Santiago, a city of 6.6 million people, thousands fled swaying buildings, an AFP reporter said.
A similar fear seized residents in Argentina.
“We went into a panic and the floor kept moving. We went out into the hallway and down the stairs,” Celina Atrave, 65, who lives in a 25-story tower near downtown Buenos Aires, told AFP.
In April last year, a deadly 8.2-magnitude earthquake in northern Chile killed six people and forced a million to leave their homes in the region around Iquique.
And a February 27, 2010 quake that struck just off the coast of Chile’s Maule region measured 8.8 in magnitude, making it one of the largest ever recorded.
It killed more than 500 people and inflicted an estimated $US30 billion ($A41.70 billion) in damages.