A massive earthquake struck off the coast of Chile late Tuesday killing at least six people, triggering a six-foot tsunami and sending 900,000 fleeing to "safe zones."
The magnitude-8.2 temblor struck roughly 62 miles northwest of the port city of Iquique and was shallow at 12.5 miles below the seabed, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.
A tsunami advisory was issued for Hawaii. Officials warned that "dangerous ocean currents" and "weird tides" were likely until around 8 a.m. local time on Wednesday (2 p.m. ET). "Thankfully there is no destructive tsunami," Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell told NBC station KHNL.
The tremors triggered landslides that blocked roads, knocked out power for thousands, damaged an airport and caused fires that destroyed several businesses.
Most of the victims were killed by falling debris or heart attacks, Interior Minister Rodrigo Penailillo said.
President Michelle Bachelet declared a state of emergency in the region and said the extent of damage couldn't be fully assessed before daybreak.
Psychiatrist Ricardo Yevenes said he was with a patient when the magnitude-8.2 quake hit. "It quickly began to move the entire office, things were falling," he told local television. "Almost the whole city is in darkness."
Photos showed Chileans calmly evacuating coastal areas on foot, with police officers helping bundled-up elderly people and some residents loading up vehicles with their belongings.
Chile’s navy said the first tsunami hit the coast within 45 minutes of the quake. A wave measuring almost six feet was generated, the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center said.
The center initially issued an "expanding tsunami warning" along the coasts of Chile and Peru, but it was canceled early Wednesday. A tsunami warning for Ecuador was also lifted, as were watches in an area encompassing Colombia, Panama, Costa Rica, Nicaragua and El Salvador.
"Everything is clogged up by people fleeing buildings by the beach"
“It may have been destructive along coasts near the earthquake epicenter and could also be a threat to more distant coasts,” the center said.
Nearly 11,000 miles northwest of Chile across the ocean, Japan's Meteorological Agency said a tsunami of up to three feet might hit the country's Pacific coast about 5 a.m. local time Thursday (4 p.m. ET on Wednesday).
More than 20 significant aftershocks followed, including a 6.2 tremor. More aftershocks and even a larger quake could not be ruled out, said seismologist Mario Pardo at the University of Chile.
Iquique is a port city of about 180,000 people, which is located close to Chile's main copper mines.
It is more than 930 miles north of Chile's capital Santiago, where the quake was not felt.
Some houses were destroyed in the city of Arica, according to Mayor Salvador Urrutia. And some older structures were ruined in the village of Huara, according to Mayor Carlos Silva.
"We're leaving with the children and what we can, but everything is clogged up by people fleeing buildings by the beach," Liliana Arriaza, a 32-year-old who was driving away with her three children, told Reuters.
Chile is vulnerable to quakes: Tuesday's tremors came on the heels of a March 16 earthquake with a magnitude of 6.7, also off Iquique.
Chile's northern coast was also hit by more than 300 earthquakes in a one-week span last month, which seismologists warned could be the precursor to a long-overdue disaster.
A magnitude-8.8 earthquake and subsequent tsunami in central Chile in 2010 killed more than 500 people, wrecked 220,000 homes and washed away docks and seaside resorts.
The strongest earthquake ever recorded on the planet also struck Chile — a magnitude-9.5 quake in 1960 that killed more than 5,000 people.
Julmary Zambrano, Becky Bratu, Carlo Dellaverson and Jason Cumming of NBC News, Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report.
First published April 1 2014, 5:21 PM