SANTIAGO, Chile -- A powerful earthquake rattled Chile's remote northern Andes near the Bolivian border yesterday, killing at least eight people and causing widespread damage in several mountain villages.
Interior Minister Jorge Correa said there could be more victims in some isolated communities, but added that no details were immediately available because of poor communications.
The quake had a preliminary magnitude of 7.9, according to both the US Geological Survey and Chilean officials, making it the world's third strongest temblor since the quake that set off an Asian tsunami in December.
Correa said a boulder fell on an automobile, killing all five passengers -- three adults and two children -- near Iquique, a port city 1,200 miles north of Santiago, the capital.
The other victims were three elderly men killed in two Andean villages. One of the victims was a disabled 80-year-old man killed when a wall collapsed at his home.
The government emergency bureau in Iquique, a coastal city about 200 miles from the epicenter, said several people were injured but did not provide a number or other details.
Iquique has a population of about 140,000.
The quake struck at 6:44 p.m. and was centered in an unpopulated Andean area, about 940 miles north of Santiago. It was also felt in several cities in southern Peru and Bolivia, but no victims or damage were reported in either neighboring country.
In the Bolivian capital of La Paz, many people took to the streets in panic.
Power supply and communications were interrupted in the port cities of Iquique and Arica, near Chile's northern border with Peru, but were being gradually restored two hours after the quake.
Northern Chile is an active mining area and includes several international mining companies. A spokesman for a state-owned copper company, Codelco, said its operations were not affected by the quake, Reuters reported.
After a 9.0 quake near Sumatra in Indonesia spawned the tsunami Dec. 28, an 8.7 temblor struck the same area on March 28.
Chillan, Chile, was the site of one of the strongest earthquakes in South American history on Jan. 24, 1939. About 28,000 people were killed by that quake, which had an estimated magnitude of 8.3.
In 1928, an earthquake leveled the small town of Talca, Chile, 150 miles south of Santiago.
The Geological Survey said earthquakes with a magnitude of 7.9 are capable of widespread and heavy damage.