One of the most powerful earthquakes in decades battered Chile on Saturday, killing at least 147 people, knocking down buildings and triggering a tsunami that rolled menacingly across the Pacific.
Buildings caught fire, major highway bridges collapsed and debris blocked streets across large swathes of central Chile.
A 15-storey building collapsed in Concepcion, the closest major city to the epicenter, and overturned cars lay scattered below a fallen overpass in the capital Santiago. Telephone and power lines went down, making it difficult to assess the full extent of the damage and loss of life.
Chilean President-elect Sebastian Pinera said at least 147 people had died in the 8.8-magnitude quake, which struck at 3:34 a.m. (0634 GMT), sending many people rushing from their beds and onto the streets in fear.
It came in waves and lasted so long. Three minutes is an eternity. We kept worrying that it was getting stronger, like a terrifying Hollywood movie, said housewife Dolores Cuevas.
Tsunami warnings were posted around the Pacific, including the U.S. state of Hawaii, Japan and Russia.
One emergency official said Chile's death toll was unlikely to increase dramatically, but it was one of the 10 biggest quakes recorded since 1900 and dealt a blow to the economic infrastructure in the world's No. 1 copper producer and one of Latin America's most developed and stable countries.
This will be a major blow to the country's infrastructure; there has been major damage to roads, airports, which are now suspended, ports and also in housing, Pinera told reporters.
The quake halted operations at two major mines and President Michelle Bachelet said a huge wave hit the Juan Fernandez islands, an archipelago where Scottish sailor Alexander Selkirk was marooned in the 18th century, inspiring the novel Robinson Crusoe.
There was a series of waves that got bigger and bigger, which gave people time to save themselves, pilot Fernando Avaria told TVN television by telephone from the main island. Three people were killed and four missing there, he said.
Bachelet said residents were evacuated from coastal areas of Chile's remote Easter Island, a popular tourist destination in the Pacific famous for its towering Moai stone statues.
The U.S. Geological Survey said the earthquake struck 70 miles northeast of Concepcion at a depth of 22 miles.
The capital Santiago, about 200 miles north of the epicenter, was also badly hit. The international airport was closed for at least 24 hours as the quake destroyed passenger walkways and shook glass out of doors and windows.
I thought I'd blown a tire ... but then I saw the highway moving like it was a piece of paper and I realized it was something much worse, said one man who was forced to abandon his car on a wrecked highway overpass.
Chile's Codelco, the world's largest copper producer, suspended operations at its El Teniente and Andina mines, but reported no major damage and said it expected the mines to be up and running in the coming hours.
Production was halted at the Los Bronces and El Soldado copper mines, owned by Anglo American Plc, but Chile's biggest copper mine, Escondida, was operating normally.
Chile produces about 34 percent of world supply of copper, which is used in electronics, cars and refrigerators.
Unusually big waves battered Ecuador's Galapagos Islands, where residents were moved to higher ground as a precaution.
Chile probably got the brunt force of the tsunami already. So probably the worst has already happened in Chile, said Victor Sardina, geophysicist at the warning center.
The tsunami was pretty big too. We reported some places around 8 feet. And it's quite possible it would be higher in other areas, he added.
An earthquake of magnitude 8 or over can cause tremendous damage, the USGS says. The January 12 quake that devastated Haiti's capital Port-au-Prince was measured as magnitude 7.0.
Local television showed a building in flames in Concepcion, one of Chile's largest cities with around 670,000 inhabitants. Some residents looted pharmacies and a collapsed grains silo, hauling off bags of wheat, television images showed.
Broken glass and chunks of concrete and brick were strewn across roads and several strong aftershocks rattled jittery residents in the hours after the initial quake.
The long quake sent Santiago residents streaming onto the streets hugging each other and crying.
My house is completely destroyed, everything fell over ... it has been totally destroyed. Me and my wife huddled in a corner and after hours they rescued us, said one elderly man in central Santiago.
There were blackouts in parts of Santiago. Emergency officials said buildings in the historic quarters of two southern cities, mainly made of adobe, had been badly damaged and local radio said three hospitals had partially collapsed.
The magnitude 9.5 earthquake of 1960, the largest earthquake worldwide in the last 200 years, spawned a tsunami that engulfed the Pacific Ocean. About 1,600 lives were lost in Chile and the tsunami took another 200 lives in Japan, Hawaii and the Philippines
In 1960, Chile was hit by a 9.5-magnitude earthquake, one of the biggest ever recorded. It devastated the city of Valdivia, killed 1,655 people, and sent a tsunami that battered Easter Island 2,300 miles off Chile's Pacific coast and continued as far as Hawaii, Japan and the Philippines.
The waves that reached the Philippines took about 24 hours to get there.
Saturday's quake shook buildings as far away as Argentina's Andean provinces of Mendoza and San Juan. A series of strong aftershocks rocked Chile's coastal region from Valdivia in the south to Valparaiso, about 500 miles to the north.
The United Nations and the White House said they were closely monitoring the situation in Chile and the potential threat of tsunamis in the Pacific.
President Barack Obama called Bachelet and said the United States stood ready to help Chile. He also urged Americans to heed warnings about a possible tsunami that could affect the U.S. West Coast and Hawaii.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was due to visit Chile on Tuesday on a Latin American tour.