Magnitude 8.3 Earthquake Strikes Off Chile, Tsunami Feared

An exceedingly powerful earthquake struck off the coast of Chile Wednesday night, sparking fears that a tsunami could strike the South American coastline, possibly even reaching Hawaii by Thursday morning.

The earthquake struck Chile at 7:54 p.m. on Wednesday night, according to CBS News, and its epicenter was located some 141 miles North-Northwest of the capital of Santiago. The earthquake was centered at a depth roughly 4.8 miles below the surface, and caused buildings in Santiago to sway, forcing people to take refuge in the streets. After the earthquake concluded, several powerful aftershocks rocked the city, setting off tsunami alarms in the port of Valparaiso, as well as along the entire coast of Chile. No immediate reports of damage or injuries were forthcoming.

Initial reports suggested that the earthquake had a magnitude of 7.9, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. Authorities in Chile recorded the earthquake as a magnitude 7.2 event, but according to CNN, that figure was revised to a magnitude of 8.3.

The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center issued an alert stating that “widespread hazardous tsunami waves are possible” along the coastlines of both Chile and Peru. The emergency office in Chile asserted that any potentially dangerous waves could strike the shoreline by 11 p.m. The National Weather Service, meanwhile, issued a tsunami warning for the Hawaiian islands, suggesting that waves could possibly strike the region by 2:30 a.m. Thursday (local time).

As io9 points out, earthquakes of this magnitude happen roughly once every year. The epicenter of this particular quake was centered 29 miles west of Illapel, Chile, which is a city with a population of around 23,000 people. Chile is located along a subduction boundary, where the tectonic plates under the Pacific Ocean join and dive beneath the continental plate upon which South America is perched. These types of zones are known not only for generating powerful earthquakes, but also for giving rise to tsunamis when such events do occur.

Though this current earthquake has reportedly produced a local tsunami, the Deep-ocean Assessment and Reporting of Tsunamis (DART) buoys positioned in the Pacific don’t show a larger wave propagating through the ocean at this time. Initial warnings suggest that the local tsunami generated by the earthquake could result in waves reaching three meters high striking the coast of Chile.

[Photo by USGS via io9]