Expertise and luck: Chile's magnitude-8.2 quake causes little damage, death
The U.S. Geological Survey said more than 60 significant aftershocks, including one of magnitude 6.2, followed the Tuesday night quake centered 61 miles (99 kilometers) northwest of Iquique.
And seismologists warn that the same region is long overdue for an even bigger quake.
"Could be tomorrow, could be in 50 years; we do not know when it's going to occur. But the key point here is that this magnitude-8.2 is not the large earthquake that we were expecting for this area. We're actually still expecting potentially an even larger earthquake," said Mark Simons, a geophysicist at the California Institute of Technology.
Chile is one of the world's most earthquake-prone countries because just off the coast, the Nazca tectonic plate plunges beneath the South American plate, pushing the towering Andes cordillera to ever-higher altitudes. Nowhere along this fault is the pressure greater than in far northern Chile, an area known as the "Iquique seismic gap".
"This is the one remaining gap that hasn't had an earthquake in the last 140 years," said Simons. "We know these two plates come together at about 6, 7 centimeters a year, and if you multiply that by 140 years then the plates should have moved about 11 meters along the fault, and you can make an estimate of the size of earthquake we expect here."
The USGS says the seismic gap last saw quakes of more than magnitude 8 in 1877 and 1868.
Luis Andres Henao reported from Santiago. Also contributing to this report were Eva Vergara in Santiago, Michael Warren in Buenos Aires, Argentina; Frank Bajak in Lima, Peru, and Andrew Dalton in Los Angeles. Luis Andres Henao on Twitter: https://twitter.com/LuisAndresHenao
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