CHILE

Tsunami advisories across Pacific after Chile earthquake

Raul Zamora, AFP | More than a million people fled their homes following Tsunami warnings

A magnitude-8.3 earthquake struck the coast of Chile on Wednesday, sparking tsunami advisories for parts of South America, Hawaii, California and French Polynesia. The quake killed at least eight people and forced a million to evacuate.

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The government ordered evacuations from coastal areas after the powerful quake hit on Wednesday evening, seeking to avoid a repeat of a quake disaster in 2010 when authorities were slow to warn of a tsunami that killed hundreds.

The Chilean government lifted its tsunami warning on Thursday morning as the risks subsided. Advisories for Hawaii and California were also lifted later on Thursday.

Authorities as far away as New Zealand had urged residents in eastern coastal areas to stay out of the water and off beaches amid expected “unusually strong currents and unpredictable water flows near the shore”.

The powerful earthquake, which was felt as far away as Buenos Aires in Argentina, caused buildings to sway in the capital of Santiago and prompted authorities to issue a tsunami warning for Chile’s entire Pacific coast.

Numerous aftershocks, including one at magnitude 7 and four that registered above magnitude 6, shook the region after the initial earthquake - the strongest since a powerful quake and tsunami killed hundreds in 2010 and levelled part of the city of Concepcion in south-central Chile.

People sought safety in the streets of inland cities, while others along the shore took to their cars to get to higher ground.

"Once again we must confront a powerful blow from nature," President Michelle Bachelet said in an address to the nation late Wednesday.

Powerful waves

The coastal town of Coquimbo was hit by waves of up to 4.5 metres (15 feet) after the earthquake, Chile's navy said.

"We're going through a really grave situation with the tsunami. We have residential neighborhoods that have flooded .... The ocean has reached the (Coquimbo) downtown area," said Coquimbo Mayor Cristian Galleguillos.

Chile is due to celebrate its national holiday on Friday, a time when families traditionally get together. Many schools are closed for vacation, and many Chileans have already left for the holidays, while others may find themselves stranded, with media reporting that roads had been cut off and public transport cancelled between Santiago and the north.

State copper miner Codelco said it had suspended mining operations at its Andina mine and had evacuated workers from its Ventanas smelter. Antofagasta said it had halted operations at its flagship Los Pelambres copper mine and would wait until daybreak to assess damage.

Chile, which runs along a highly seismic and volcanic zone where tectonic plates meet, is no stranger to earthquakes.

In 2014, an 8.2-magnitude quake struck near the northern city of Iquique, and four years earlier an 8.8-magnitude earthquake in central-southern Chile triggered a massive tsunami, and more than 500 people were killed.

In the hours following the 2010 quake, President Bachelet and other government officials misjudged the extent of damage and declined offers of international aid. That delayed the flow of assistance to disaster areas, leaving many survivors feeling they had been abandoned by the government.

(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS)

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