Officials in Japan and Australia warned a tsunami from the earthquake was likely to hit Asian shorelines within 24 hours. The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center in Hawaii issued a tsunami caution for areas across the region.
"Sea-level readings confirm that a tsunami has been generated which could cause widespread damage," the center said in a bulletin after the magnitude-8.8 quake. "Authorities should take appropriate action to respond to this threat."
The center noted that the first waves after a quake are not necessarily the largest and said tsunami wave heights are difficult to predict because they can vary significantly along a coast due to the local topography.
Earthquakes across the Pacific have had deadly effects on Asia in the past.
A tsunami after a magnitude-9.5 quake that struck Chile in 1960, the largest earthquake ever recorded, killed about 140 people in Japan, 61 in Hawaii and 32 in the Philippines. That tsunami was about 3.3 to 13 feet (one to four meters) in height, Japan's Meteorological Agency said.
The tsunami from Saturday's quake was likely to be much smaller because the quake itself was not as strong.
Japanese public broadcaster NHK quoted earthquake experts as saying the tsunami would likely be tens of centimeters (inches) high and reach Japan in about 22 hours. A tsunami of 28 centimeters (11 inches) was recorded after a magnitude-8.4 earthquake near Chile in 2001.
The Meteorological Agency said it was still investigating the likelihood of a tsunami from the magnitude-8.8 quake and did not issue a formal coastal warning.
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Australia, meanwhile, was put on a tsunami watch.
The Joint Australian Tsunami Warning Center issued a warning for a "potential tsunami threat" to New South Wales state, Queensland state, Lord Howe Island and Norfolk Island. Any potential wave would not hit Australia until Sunday morning local time, it said.
The Bureau of Meteorology said a tsunami had already been observed off the coast of Chile that may threaten Australia.
The earthquake struck early Saturday in central Chile, shaking the capital for a minute and a half.
The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center issued a warning for a swath of territories across the Asia-Pacific, also including New Zealand, Samoa, American Samoa, the Solomon Islands, Papua New Guinea, Indonesia, the Philippines and Taiwan.
Press; By ERIC TALMADGE]
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