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A magnitude 8.3 earthquake has struck off the coast of Chile, killing at least five people and forcing one million to flee their homes.

The quake shook buildings late on Wednesday in the capital city of Santiago, about 280km to the south, and flooded some coastal areas under a tsunami warning.

President Michelle Bachelet said she planned to travel to the areas worst affected by the quake, the biggest to hit the world's top copper producer since 2010.

"Once again we're having to deal with another harsh blow from nature," Bachelet said in a televised statement.

Television images showed panicked people gathered in streets lined with damaged buildings, while big waves flooded roads in some cities along the coast.

The quake also damaged homes, buildings and injured several people and was felt as far away as Buenos Aires in Argentina. Frequent aftershocks continued to shake the country.

Tsunami advisories were issued for parts of South America, Hawaii, California and French Polynesia, although waves are generally expected to be small.

As far away as New Zealand, authorities 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 quake damaged homes, buildings and injured several people and was felt as far away as Buenos Aires in Argentina [Reuters]

A 26-year-old woman was killed by a collapsing wall in Illapel and another person died from a heart attack in Santiago, according to media reports.

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

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

National holiday

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.

Less than an hour after the initial earthquake, three aftershocks all greater than magnitude 6.1 struck the region, and smaller quakes continue to shake the area, the US Geological Survey (USGS) reported.

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 caused a massive tsunami, and more than 500 people were killed.

In the hours following that 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.

Compounding matters, the Chilean navy's catastrophe-alert system failed to warn the population of impending tsunamis, leaving hundreds who survived the initial quake to be engulfed by massive waves that followed.

Bachelet’s government was also slow to prevent looting following the quake.

 

Source: Reuters