A massive 8.3-magnitude earthquake has struck off the central coast of Chile, killing at least three people, triggering the evacuation of coastal areas and sparking warnings that tsunami waves could reach as far as Japan.

The earthquake had a shallow depth of 11km and hit at 7:54pm (22:54 GMT), with the epicentre located about 500km north of the capital Santiago, seismologists at the University of Chile said.

Announcing in a televised statement that she would travel to the worst-affected areas, President Michelle Bachelet, said: "Once again we're having to deal with another harsh blow from nature.

"Unfortunately we've received information that as of now we are certain three people are confirmed dead."

Several strong aftershocks hit within minutes as tsunami alarms sounded in the nearby port of Valparaiso.

Authorities said some adobe houses collapsed in the inland city of Illapel, located about 280km north of Santiago.

Denis Cortes, Illapel's mayor, told a local television station that a woman had been killed in the city but declined to give any details.

Electricity was knocked out, leaving the city in darkness. "We are very scared. Our city panicked," Cortes said.

Officials reported the death of a man of 86, but did not say where he had died. 

The country's state copper miner Codelco said it was evacuating its workers at its Ventanas division.

Waves triggered by the earthquake have begun hitting the country's coastline, the ONEMI emergency service said.

Tsunami waves of up to three metres are possible along the coast of French Polynesia, the Pacific Tsunami Center (PTWC) in Hawaii said.

The PTWC also issued an alert for tsunami waves of between 0.3 to 1 metre for Japan, Antarctica, and most of the South Pacific, including New Zealand, Fiji, Tonga, Vanuatu and the Solomon Islands.

Electricity was knocked out by the earthquake, leaving the port city of Valparaiso in darkness [Reuters]

Source: Agencies