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Powerful earthquake strikes off the coast of Chile, triggers tsunami

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(CNN) — An 8.2-magnitude earthquake struck off the coast of northern Chile on Tuesday evening, generating a tsunami, authorities said.

The U.S. Geological Survey reported the quake, which hit at at 8:46 p.m. local time, was centered some 60 miles northwest of Iquique at a depth of 12.5 miles. It had previously put the magnitude at 8.0 and the depth at 6.2 miles.

The quake caused a small landslide, but there were no reports of deaths or major damage, Chilean Deputy Interior Minister Mahmud Aleuy told reporters.

Chile’s National Emergency Office tweeted Tuesday night that it was asking everyone to evacuate the South American nation’s coast.

People in Antofagasta, a port city, walked through the streets to higher ground as traffic piled up in some places, video on CNN Chile showed. They appeared to be calm.

“Many people are fearful after experiencing the powerful earthquake in 2010, so they immediately fled for higher ground when they heard the tsunami warning,” said Fabrizio Guzman, World Vision emergency communications manager in Chile.

“There have been multiple aftershocks and communications have been cut off in many of the affected areas, so people are waiting in the dark hills not knowing what is to come, and hoping they will be able to return to their homes safely.”

The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center on Tuesday night canceled all tsunami warnings except those for Chile and Peru. All tsunami watches — which once extended as far north as Mexico’s Pacific coast — were called off as well.

“Sea level readings indicate a tsunami was generated. It may have been destructive along coasts near the epicenter and could also be a threat to more distant coasts,” the center said in its evaluation.

Tsunami waves of more than 6 feet generated by the earthquake had already washed ashore on the coast of Pisagua, Chile, according to Victor Sardino, with the center. The center said nearly 7-foot waves were reported in Iquique, Chile.

According to the Global Disaster Alert and Coordination System — a joint effort that includes the United Nations — the city of Iquique has a population of more than 200,000 people.

Although there were no immediate reports of injuries, an 8.2-magnitude earthquake is capable of causing tremendous damage.

There was damage reported at an air traffic control tower at the airport in Iquique, according to El Mercurio, a national newspaper.

Chile is on the so-called “Ring of Fire,” an arc of volcanoes and fault lines circling the Pacific Basic that is prone to frequent earthquakes and volcanic eruptions.

The U.S. Geological Survey reported at least a dozen significant aftershocks Tuesday — including one with a magnitude of 6.2.

On March 16, a 6.7-magnitude earthquake struck 37 miles west-northwest of Iquique, according to the USGS. A 6.1-magnitude hit the same area exactly one week later.

About 500 people were killed when a 8.8-magnitude earthquake struck Chile on February 27, 2010. That quake triggered a tsunami that toppled buildings, particularly in the Maule region along the coast.

According to researchers, the earthquake was violent enough to move the Chilean city of Concepcion at least 10 feet to the west and Santiago about 11 inches to the west-southwest.

The U.S. National Tsunami Warning Center worked Tuesday to determine the level of danger for Alaska, Washington, Oregon and California, as well as Canada’s British Columbia.

Gerard Fryer, a geophysicist with the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center, told CNN there is “clearly not going to be any hazards to the coastline of North America.” Officials are still in a wait and see mode on Hawaii and New Zealand.

Fryer said there would likely be no evacuation of the coast of Hawaii, but there may be an advisory for residents to stay off the beach.

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