THE U.S. Geological Survey says a powerful 7.8-magnitude aftershock has rocked Chile's northern coast, which was hit by a powerful magnitude-8.2 earthquake yesterday.

It caused buildings to shake in the port of Iquique, which saw some damage from the big quake on Wednesday.

There are no immediate reports of new damage or injuries.

The latest tremor came 45 minutes after a strong 6.4-magnitude aftershock shook the same area.

It hit shortly before 1pm (AEST) this afternoon, 23 kilometers south of Iquique, at a depth of 20km, according to the USGS.

Updates at NZ Herald

Chile earthquake death toll rises to five

CHILE'S interior minister says the death toll has risen to five from a powerful magnitude-8.2 earthquake that struck off northern Chile today.

The quake forced evacuations along the country's entire Pacific coast for fear of tsunamis.

Interior Minister Rodrigo Penailillo attributed the five deaths to heart attacks or being crushed.

Thousands have lost power, and hundreds of thousands of Chileans are spending the night away from their beds due to the evacuation order, which remains in effect for northern Chile.

In the city of Arica, 139 kilometres from the quake's epicenter, minor injuries were reported and some homes made of adobe were destroyed, officials said.

The quake shook modern buildings in nearby Peru and in Bolivia's high altitude capital of La Paz.

The Ministry of Civil Defence & Emergency Management said the earthquake was unlikely to have caused a tsunami that will pose a threat to New Zealand.

There are currently 192 New Zealand nationals registered as being in Chile. It was too soon for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade to know how many, if any, were affected.

Chile earthquake triggers tsunami warning

A POWERFUL magnitude-8.2 earthquake has struck off Chile's northern coast, and officials ordered an evacuation of coastal areas before an expected tsunami.

There were no immediate reports of injuries or damage from the tremor, which also shook buildings in parts of nearby Peru and Bolivia.

The US Geological Survey initially reported the quake at 8.0, but later upgraded the magnitude.

It said the quake struck 99 kilometres northwest of the Chilean city of Iquique at 8:46pm (local time), hitting a region that has been rocked by numerous quakes over the past two weeks.

The quake was just 10 kilometres deep.

Waves measuring almost 2 metres already were striking cities on the coast, and authorities said a tsunami was expected to come ashore later. Local TV images showed residents evacuating calmly.

The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center issued an alert for all of Latin America's Pacific coast. Chile's Emergency Office said a large tsunami wave was expected to hit the island of Juan Fernandez out in the Pacific just before midnight local time.

The Ministry of Civil Defence & Emergency Management said the earthquake was unlikely to have caused a tsunami that will pose a threat to New Zealand or Australia.

An Australian expert told the ABC that there would only be 'minor' impacts in Australia from any tsunami.

Chile's emergency service reported some road blocked by landslides caused by the quake, but said no injuries had been reported so far.

An official at Peru's civil defense office said evacuations were underway on that country's coast.

The official, who did not give her name, said there were no immediate reports of damage. Police officer Alejandro Rosado in a Tacna, a Peruvian town near the coast, said no damage or injuries had been reported there.

Chile is one of the most seismically active countries in the world, and a large earthquake has long been expected in the north of the country.

Hundreds of earthquakes have shaken Chile's far-northern coast in the past two weeks, keeping people on edge as scientists said there was no way to tell if the unusual string of tremors was a harbinger of an impending disaster.

Evacuation in Chile after a major earthquake. Source: Twitter
Evacuation in Chile after a major earthquake. Source: Twitter

The unnerving activity began with a strong magnitude-6.7 quake on March 16 that caused more than 100,000 people to briefly evacuate low-lying areas, although no tsunami materialised and there was little physical damage from the shaking.

In February 2010, central and southern Chile were hit by a powerful earthquake of 8.8-magnitude followed by a tsunami that devastated dozens of towns.

The quake left more than 500 dead and $30 billion in damage to infrastructure.

Updates at the New Zealand Herald

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