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A man plays with his son at a temporary campsite at a sports center in downtown Iquique, Chile after a magnitude -8.2 earthquake destroyed thousands of homes and caused mass evacuations. / Felipe Trueba, epa

SANTIAGO, Chile - The earth hasn't stopped shaking in northern Chile since a massive quake erupted off the coast of this Pacific nation.

Seismologists say Chile is being hit by 10 to 15 aftershocks every hour in the days since the country was rattled by a magnitude-8.2 earthquake April 1. Most of the temblors are imperceptible to people, but that doesn't mean they haven't heard about them.

"There's a mass psychosis and any time the ground moves, people get scared because it could be the one we're waiting for, the big one," said Waleska Muñoz, 24, who has been camping with her parents on a hillside because their apartment building was declared unsafe because of structural damage.

Fears of a major quake and tsunami to come are worrying Muñoz and others in Iquique, a port city of nearly 200,000 people. Many families are camped outside their apartments, some because of damage to homes, others because they are worried that a quake-induced tsunami may soon arrive and swamp coastal lowlands.

Seismologists say another serious quake could come at any time. Iquique, in the country's arid north, is along what is known as a seismic-gap, or an area on an active fault line between two plates of the earth's crust where a lack of significant movement has not allowed energy to be released.

But some see signs of an easing of pressure along the fault.

Sergio Barrientos, the head of University of Chile's national seismological center, said the April 1 quake originated along what he describes as a 90-mile portion of the fault's "rupture zone."

"I interpret that as the possibility that seismic gap is releasing the energy bit by bit," he said.

Barrientos said the release is probably good news because it may mean that future quakes here are not likely to be as strong as possible if the entire length of the 380-mile rupture zone had shifted at once.

Chileans know what powerful quakes look like. In 1960, the most powerful earthquake ever recorded, an astonishing magnitude-9.5 quake in the Pacific, created huge tsunami waves that wiped out coastal villages in Chile and as far away as Japan. It is estimated that 1,600 to 6,000 people died.

Four years ago, a magnitude-8.8 temblor and tsunami walloped central Chile, killing more than 500 people.

The April 1 quake caused cracks and serious damage to thousands of buildings and left at least six people dead. A tsunami struck ports with waves of 7 feet, piling up and splintering fishing vessels in harbors.

People in damaged homes have set up tents in towns where the temperatures at nighttime get cold during the fall season. Soldiers in Iquique are patrolling supermarkets and gas stations to stop looting, but the city was reportedly peaceful. Schools were closed and makeshift health clinics were delivering babies.

Dozens of families from the Las Dunas neighborhood of Iquique are camped along the hillsides. The threat of looters picking through their belongings keeps them from moving further away.

People from other neighborhoods join them at night, fearful of sleeping too close to the Pacific, Muñoz said.

Barrientos said it's a good bet that a quake of around the same magnitude as that of the April 1 quake will strike at some point to the south and north of Iquique.

"That could happen in a few hours, or maybe in five to 10 years. What is certain is that it's going to happen, there's no doubt about that," he said.



Copyright 2014 USATODAY.com

Read the original story: Chileans are worried about the big one

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