SANTIAGO, Chile — A powerful earthquake has struck in the Pacific off Chile's northern region, and authorities have ordered an evacuation of coastal areas in case of a tsunami. There are no immediate reports of injuries or damage.
The U.S. Geological Survey says the quake had a preliminary magnitude of 8.0 and struck 61 miles (99 kilometers) northwest of Iquique, Chile, at 8:46 p.m. It hit in an area that has been rocked by numerous quakes over the past two weeks.
The latest tremor shook buildings in parts of the nearby nations of Bolivia and Peru.
The magnitude 8.0 earthquake has already generated 6-foot high tsunami waves in Chile, the U.S. National Tsunami Warning Center said.
Sensors in Chile recorded one cycle of a six-foot rise in seawater off the coast, Paul Whitmore, director of the U.S. National Tsunami Warning Center in Alaska, told the Los Angeles Times.
"Yes, that could do a lot of damage," Whitmore said. "Once a tsunami gets going, a large sized one, it will continue for hours if not days."
"The danger will only decrease after the first six hours. They’re long lasting events," Whitmore said.
Whitmore said no tsunami warning has been issued for the U.S. West Coast, including California.
A tsunami was expected to reach cities near the epicenter throughout the night, and local TV images showed residents evacuating calmly. Chile's Emergency Office said a large tsunami wave was expected to hit the island of Juan Fernandez just before midnight local time.
The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center issued an alert for all of Latin America's Pacific coast.
Chile is one of the world's most earthquake-prone countries. A magnitude-8.8 quake and ensuing tsunami in central Chile in 2010 killed more than 500 people, destroyed 220,000 homes, and washed away docks, riverfronts and seaside resorts.
The strongest earthquake ever recorded on Earth also happened in Chile — a magnitude-9.5 tremor in 1960 that killed more than 5,000 people.
Hundreds of earthquakes have shaken Chile's far-northern coast in the past two weeks, keeping people on edge as scientists said there was no way to tell if the unusual string of tremors was a harbinger of an impending disaster.
The unnerving activity began with a strong magnitude-6.7 quake on March 16 that caused more than 100,000 people to briefly evacuate low-lying areas, although no tsunami materialized and there was little physical damage from the shaking.