A monstrous earthquake of magnitude 8.2 has struck off northern Chile, triggering a tsunami and killing at least five people. The quake struck at 8:46 pm local time about 86 km north-west of the mining area of Iquique.
Waves of up to 2.1m have hit some areas of the country followed by power cuts, fires and landslides.
Although it was much smaller in strength than the record-breaking 1960 'Valdivia earthquake' or 'Great Chilean Earthquake' of magnitude 9.5 - the biggest earthquake ever recorded in history - the quake gave a cryptic reminder of the monstrous day in record.
It is also important to note that the earthquake could be a harbinger of even a bigger quake, going by the seismological structure of the area. The fault that triggered the magnitude 8.2 temblor late on Tuesday was overdue for a significant earthquake and therefore, an even more powerful temblor could be in store, the Los Angeles Times reported citing Rick Allmendinger, a Cornell University professor of earth and atmospheric sciences.
"This segment in Chile had not broken since 1877," the geology expert, who has extensively studied the northern Chilean fault zone, told the newspaper. "It had been quite for an unusually long period of time."
Although a magnitude of 8.2 earthquake is reasonably strong, the quake that struck about 950 miles north of Chile's capital, Santiago, reportedly wasn't powerful enough to release all the friction that was stored in the locked plate boundary for the last 140 years or so, the news outlet said citing the expert.
"Is this the Big One for the area? Or was it a foreshock to a presumably an even bigger earthquake?"
Scientists may not be able to predict earthquakes, but they could well study the pattern in which quakes strike. There has been a pattern of smaller earthquakes preceding massive quakes in the history.
For example, before the most powerful earthquake of 9.5 that hit southern Chile in 1960, there were strong foreshocks. The record-setting 'Great Chilean Earthquake' of 9.5 had killed thousands and sent damaging tsunami to Hawaii, Japan, the Philippines, Australia and the US West Coast.
Also, before the 2011 Japan quake, there was a magnitude 7.3 earthquake that turned out to be a foreshock of the massive magnitude 9.0 earthquake, the effects of which is being felt even today.
Scientists have been studying a cluster of earthquakes off northern Chile two weeks before Tuesday's earthquake. The quakes appear to be occurring in similar patterns to those that appeared prior to the Japan earthquake, Allmendinger said.
On 16 March, a 6.7 temblor had struck that area off the Chilean coast.
Earthquake zone areas, such as the place where Tuesday's temblor occurred, are known for causing the world's most powerful earthquakes.
"We're hoping for the sake of all of our friends in northern Chile that this is the Big One and there isn't another Big One coming. We're keeping our fingers crossed at this point," Allmendinger told the newspaper.
There are no earthquakes larger than 9.5 magnitude. But if ever an earthquake, as large as that or larger than that is to appear, the effects will be unimaginably devastating.