A powerful 8.2-magnitude earthquake hit northern Chile's Pacific coast on Tuesday, killing at least six people as tsunami waves of more than two meters lashed the shore.
The quake sent panicked residents pouring into the streets, with more than 900,000 people along Chile's coast heeding government orders to evacuate their homes and seek higher ground.
Similar warnings were issued in a ripple effect up the Pacific coast of South America and into Central America.
Firefighters try to extinguish a fire on a restaurant by the sea shore after a powerful 8.0-magnitude earthquake hit off Chile's Pacific coast in Iquique. (AFP Photo)
But about 10 hours after the two-minute quake, the Chilean government lifted what remained of a nationwide tsunami alert.
People began trickling home after spending hours outside in the middle of the night although the Interior Ministry asked them to remain on alert, as sea levels will remain as much as a meter higher than usual.
Some fires broke out, roads were damaged and power was knocked out in the northern city of Arica, although there was no widespread destruction from the latest mighty quake in one of the world's most seismically active countries, said the disaster relief agency ONEMI.
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"The street lights were busted, people ran terrified. After the earthquake there were several aftershocks," Veronica Castillo told AFP from Arica, 1,000 miles north of the capital Santiago.
The government said that so far there have been 17 aftershocks and there will be more in coming days as some energy from the quake zone has yet to be released, according to Sergio Barrientos of the seismological service at the University of Chile.
President Michelle Bachelet declared parts of northern Chile to be disaster zones and said soldiers will be dispatched to the areas to prevent looting and disorder from breaking out as they did after a deadly 8.8-magnitude quake in 2010.
Locals take refuge at the city stadium following a tsunami alert after a powerful 8.0-magnitude earthquake hit off Chile's Pacific coast in Iquique. (AFP Photo)
More than 500 people died and $30 billion in damage was wrought in that quake. In the city of Iquique, closest to the epicenter, some 300 prisoners escaped from a jail amid the chaos triggered by the new tremor.Watch: Chile government orders evacuation of coasts after massive earthquake
A total of 39 of them have been recaptured, the Interior Ministry said. The quake struck at 8:46pm (2346 GMT) at a depth of 10 kilometers (six miles), 83 kilometers from Iquique on Chile's northern coast, the United States Geological Survey said.
Chile's National Seismological Center placed it four times deeper, however.