Tsunami Slams Chile After Deadly Magnitude-8.3 Earthquake

Police patrol a debris strewn street in Valparaiso, Chile, after a tsunami, caused by an earthquake hit the area, Wednesday, Sept. 16, 2015. (Pablo Ovalle Isasmendi/AGENCIA UNO via AP)

Southern California, Hawaii Under Tsunami Advisories

(SOURCE)   Tsunami advisories are in effect for Hawaii and Southern California after a powerful magnitude-8.3 earthquake struck the Pacific Ocean waters just off the coast of Chile Wednesday evening, generating a dangerous 15-foot tsunami along parts of the Chilean coast. Chilean authorities said at least eight people died as a result of earthquake-related incidents.

The tsunami is expected to fan out across much of the Pacific Ocean, though the worst of its power is expected to be focused westward toward French Polynesia, including Tahiti.

Initial tsunami wave heights up to 1.1 feet were recorded in the French Polynesian Island of Rikitea, about 3,900 miles west of Lima, Peru in the South Pacific Ocean early Thursday morning, U.S. time. Nuku Hiva, another French Polynesian island about 1,000 miles north-northwest of Rikitea, measured a 2.5-foot tsunami wave height.

A damaged store is seen after a large earthquake in Concon, northwest of Santiago, Chile, on Sept. 16, 2015. (AFP/Getty Images)

In the U.S., the PTWC has issued a tsunami advisory for Hawaii. The bulletin said a major tsunami is not expected, but “sea level changes and strong currents” may endanger swimmers and boaters Thursday. Local officials have urged people to stay off the beach and out of the water.

The two U.S. government agencies responsible for tsunami forecasting say tsunami waves of 1 to 3 feet may reach Hawaii early Thursday morning, first arriving around 3:11 a.m. HST (9:11 a.m. EDT). Here are some forecasted arrival times of the first tsunami wave in Hawaii. Keep in mind there are multiple tsunami waves that could last for several hours after the first wave, and that the first wave may not be the largest:

  • Hilo:  3:11 a.m. 
  • Kailua-Kona: 3:19 a.m.
  • Kahului, Maui: 3:26 a.m.
  • Honolulu: 3:41 a.m.
  • Nawiliwili, Kauai: 3:46 a.m.

The U.S. government’s National Tsunami Warning Center also issued a tsunami advisory for southern California, including coastal areas of the counties of San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, Ventura, Los Angeles, Orange and San Diego. NTWC said tsunami waves of less than 1 foot above normal tide levels can be expected.

Such waves are not a danger to those on land, but they can create unusual and dangerous currents posing a danger to swimmers and boaters. People along the coast of southern California are advised to avoid the water until the tsunami threat subsides.

NTWC projects the first of the small tsunami waves to reach Newport Beach, California, at 4:46 a.m. PDT, Los Angeles Harbor at 4:47 a.m. PDT and Santa Barbara at 5:06 a.m. PDT.

The L.A. County Office of Emergency Management advised fishermen, beachgoers and visitors to stay off beaches, harbor areas and jetties until the advisory is lifted. No evacuations were ordered for L.A. County coastal areas.

Tsunami advisories were also posted for American Samoa, with the first wave expected to reach Pago Pago around 1:26 a.m. SST (8:26 a.m. EDT). Similar to Hawaii, wave heights of 3 feet or less were expected, there.

The gauge in Coquimbo, Chile, recorded three tsunami waves of at least 4 meters (13 feet) each, including a maximum tsunami wave height 15.1 feet above normal tide levels. Several other Chilean coastal cities have recorded tsunami waves as well, though none nearly as dramatic as those in Coquimbo.

The U.S. Geological Survey said the main shock struck at 7:54 p.m. Chile time (6:54 p.m. EDT in the U.S.) about 34 miles (54 km) west of Illapel, Chile, or about 145 miles (233 km) north-northwest of Santiago, Chile’s largest city. It is the planet’s strongest quake of 2015 thus far.

Officials in Chile issued a tsunami warning for the entire coastline of the country, advising everyone near the coast to move to higher ground. The tsunami warning was dropped for Chile’s two southernmost regions shortly after 11 p.m. local time.

The quake was so strong that shaking was felt across much of South America. The strongest shaking was reported in Coquimbo and La Serena, where the ground motions registered at level VIII (eight) on the 12-point Mercalli scale, according to Chilean authorities. Such shaking is classified as “severe” and can cause severe damage in poorly built structures.

The USGS “Did You Feel It?” website received reports of level IX (nine) shaking, considered “violent” on the Mercalli scale, in Illapel.

Widespread power outages have been reported near the epicenter, and Chile’s emergency management network, Red Nacional de Emergencia, said cellular phone networks have “collapsed” in some regions. RNE also said it has received reports of landslides in hilly sections of Salamancas, Coquimbo, and Los Vilos, in the region closest to the quake epicenter.

Officials ordered people to evacuate low-lying areas along the 2,400 miles (3,900 kilometers) of Chile’s Pacific shore, from Puerto Aysen in the south to Arica in the north. Fishing boats headed out to sea and cars streamed inland carrying people to higher ground. Santiago’s main airport was evacuated as a precaution.

Authorities said many houses collapsed in the inland city of Illapel, about 175 miles (280 kilometers) north of Santiago.

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

Thousands of Illapel residents slept outside Thursday night after the temblor destroyed their homes. Many of those people were inside their dwellings, some made of concrete, when the intense shaking began.

“I thought it was the end of the world and we were going to die,” said Illapel resident Manuel Moya, who slept on the ground after his home was destroyed. He and his wife were watching television in their bed when the tremor began, and both scrambled outside in their underwear, fearing the house would collapse on top of them. After the quake, neighbors brought them clothes.

“They said it was a magnitude 8 but it felt like a 10,” he added.

The quake was immediately followed by four aftershocks of 6.0 or greater magnitude within 30 minutes. The tremors measured 6.3, 6.1, 6.2 and 7.0, striking at 7:59, 8:03, 8:16 and 8:18 local time, respectively. Additional strong aftershocks struck at 10:41 p.m. Wednesday (magnitude 6.4) and at 12:55 and 1:10 a.m. Thursday (magnitudes 6.2 and 6.3, respectively).

Numerous other aftershocks registering between 5.0 and 5.9 on the moment magnitude scale occurred in the hours after the main earthquake, according to the USGS.

Other South American Nations on Alert

North of Chile, the Peruvian military issued a tsunami warning for the entire coast of Peru. Sea level monitoring sites in Callao and Matarani both recorded tsunami waves of less than 1 foot (0.3 meter) late Wednesday evening.

However, the seismological agency in Ecuador, INOCAR, said the Chilean quake “does not have the characteristics necessary to generate a tsunami,” and did not issue a tsunami warning for its coastline. It instead warned of dangerous currents.

The U.S. government’s Pacific Tsunami Warning Center placed both Peru and Ecuador among the countries where tsunami waves could reach 0.3 to 1 meter (1 to 3 feet) above normal tide levels.

Chile’s Earthquake History

A magnitude-8.8 quake and ensuing tsunami in south-central Chile in 2010 killed more than 500 people, destroyed 220,000 homes, and washed away docks, riverfronts and seaside resorts. That quake released so much energy, it actually it shortened the Earth’s day by a fraction of a second by changing the planet’s rotation.

The quake had huge ramifications, both political and practical, prompting the Andean nation to improve its alert systems for both quakes and tsunamis.

Chile is one of the world’s most earthquake-prone countries because just off the coast, the Nazca tectonic plate plunges beneath the South American plate, pushing the towering Andes cordillera to ever-higher altitudes.

The strongest earthquake ever recorded on Earth happened in Chile – a magnitude-9.5 tremor in 1960 that killed more than 5,000 people.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

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