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An earthquake in Chile triggered a tsunami warning for much of South and Central America

  • Adam Pasick
By Adam Pasick

Senior Editor

ChilePublished This article is more than 2 years old.

This post has been updated.

A 8.2 magnitude earthquake off the coast of Chile has killed five people and triggered a tsunami on the country’s northern coast, and countries along the Pacific coast of the Americas as far north as Mexico were on tsunami watch for several hours.

“An earthquake of this size has the potential to generate a destructive tsunami that can strike coastlines near the epicenter within minutes and more distant coastlines within hours,”  the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center said. Coastal areas of  Chile and were evacuated and the Galapagos Islands were on “red alert:”

The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center cancelled all warnings and watches at 0443 GMT, about five hours after the quake hit.

The earthquake took place at a relatively shallow depth of 12.5 miles below the seabed, about 100 km (62 miles) off the coast of the Chilean mining town of Iquique, near the Peruvian border. According to the Chilean navy, the first tsunami wave hit the northern Chilean coast within 45 minutes.

Here is the tsunami’s projected path, according to the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration:

Tsunamis can travel great distances, but take many hours to cross the ocean and make landfall. They travel at about 600 miles an hour—roughly the speed of a commercial jet—and can pass nearly unnoticed until they reach shallower coastal waters. If a tsunami were to reach Hawaii after the Chilean quake, for example, it is would have taken about 14 hours to get there.

In Chile, authorities evacuated the coast immediately after the quake, and there were no reports of serious damage or injuries.

The tsunami is not expected to reach as far as Southern California:

Four years ago, an 8.8 earthquake triggered a tsunami that killed 526 people in central Chile. And the area does have a history of quakes and tsunamis that can travel. From NOAA:

The last large tsunami that caused widespread death and destruction throughout the Pacific was generated by an earthquake located off the coast of Chile in 1960. It caused loss of life and property damage not only along the Chile coast but in Hawaii and as far away as Japan.

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