"I thought it was the end of the world and we were going to die," said one Chilean quake survivor

By Maria Coder
Updated September 17, 2015 11:30 AM
Credit: Rodrigo Garrido/Reuters/Landov

A major earthquake off the coast of Chile has killed at least 10 people and forced more than a million others to evacuate.

Many coastal towns were also flooded from small tsunami waves set off by the 8.3-magnitude quake that originated in the Pacific Ocean, the Los Angeles Times reports.

The powerful quake rocked northern Chile on Wednesday night for about three minutes, causing buildings to sway in the capital city of Santiago and cutting electrical power to 240,000 households. The accompanying flooding also prompted people to run into the streets of inland cities, while others piled into cars to race to higher ground, TIME reports.

“We were on the 12th floor and we were very afraid because it was not stopping. First it was from side to side, then it was like little jumps,” Santiago resident Jeannette Matte told the BBC.

“I thought it was the end of the world and we were going to die,” Manuel Moya, who was sleeping with his wife outside their destroyed home in Illapel, 175 miles north of Santiago and 34 miles east of the quake’s epicenter, told the L.A. Times.

The massive quake shook buildings in cities as far away as Buenos Aires in Argentina. Numerous aftershocks, including one at magnitude 7 and four at a magnitute registering higher than 6, shook the region after the initial quake.

“Once again we must confront a powerful blow from nature,” Chilean President Michelle Bachelet said while addressing the nation, per TIME.

This is the strongest tremor since 2010 when an 8.8-magnitude earthquake and tsunami killed more than 500 people and devastated large areas of the country, the BBC reports. That earthquake had so much energy it altered the planet’s rotation and shortened the Earth’s day by a fraction of a second, TIME explained.

Tsunami advisories were in effect for Hawaii and parts of California following the quake. The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center originally issued a tsunami watch for Hawaii but downgraded the alert to an advisory. Tsunami warnings in Chile have gradually lifted. The last warning was cancelled just after 6 a.m. local time, according to multiple reports.

President Bachelet will travel to affected areas on Thursday.

Chile is one of the most earthquake-prone countries because it runs along the boundary between the Nazca and South American tectonic plates, which grind past each other at a rate of up to 80mm per year, the BBC noted.