A tsunami warning has been issued for part of New Zealand's east coast after a powerful magnitude 8.3 earthquake shook Chile's capital Santiago today, causing buildings to sway and people to take refuge in the streets.

At least three aftershocks above magnitude-6 and other strong shakes rattled the region as tsunami alarms sounded in the port of Valparaiso in the first major quake since a powerful quake and tsunami killed hundreds in 2010 and leveled part of a southern Chilean city.

There were no immediate reports of injuries, but authorities said some adobe houses collapsed in the inland city of Illapel, about 280 kilometres north of Santiago.

In New Zealand, the Ministry of Civil Defence issued a tsunami warning for East Cape, Chatham Islands, Coromandel and Banks Peninsula today.

The waves were expected to reach between 0.3m and 1m high, and first reach Gisborne and the East Cape in less than 12 hours - at about 12.15am.

Civil Defence said the tsunami warning would remain in effect until a cancellation message was issued.

The Chilean quake was initially measured at a magnitude of 7.9 but was later upgraded to 8.3, according to the US Geological Survey, and tsunami waves along Chile's coast could reach 3m.

Guy Hodges was with his wife and 5-year-old boy in Santiago when the quake struck.

Damage to a food court in a shopping mall in the northern town of La Serena Chile. Photo: Rodrigo Vilches M. / Twitter
Damage to a food court in a shopping mall in the northern town of La Serena Chile. Photo: Rodrigo Vilches M. / Twitter

"[The] quake shook us for over a minute had us taking shelter in the doorway. It was long and had our apartment building creaking. There have been at least 5 after shocks, 1 strong enough to scramble for the door again.

"[It] wasn't as bad as the 2010 shake which I went through in Santiago as well with my then pregnant wife. This time round, there doesn't seem to be any damage round the city and no major injuries. The cities on the coast have been put on tsunami alert," he said.

The New Zealand tsunami warning was issued to all local civil defence authorities, emergency services and other agencies.

In Banks Peninsula, one of the areas identified as a "hot spot" likely to feel the tsunami effects, Christchurch Civil Defence and Emergency Management (CDEM) was monitoring the tsunami alert.

Christchurch CDEM said it was seeking "more detailed information about the Chilean earthquake and the potential tsunami risk for coastal Banks Peninsula."

Monitoring of the situation would will continue throughout the evening and people were advised to stay out of the water, including rivers and estuaries.

People flood into the streets following a massive earthquake off the coast of Chile. Photo / Supplied via Twitter
People flood into the streets following a massive earthquake off the coast of Chile. Photo / Supplied via Twitter

In Auckland, no warning was currently in place for the city but authorities were still unsure this afternoon if Great Barrier Island was at risk.

Auckland Council said the first quake-related activities in coastal New Zealand "may not be the most significant" so the public should keep a close eye on updates, which were subject to change.

"Tsunami activity will continue for several hours and the threat must be regarded as real until this warning is cancelled," the Council added.

Civil Defence workers were briefing Thames Coromandel District Council this afternoon on the tsunami risk.

"There is no immediate danger. We will be able to provide more information after 1pm once we are briefed by civil defence," the council said.

A Whitianga man said he had been alerted to the tsunami warning via a text from his son's school.

He said the school, Mercury Bay Area School, advised him of the earthquake in Chile and mentioned they'd be evacuating the school to the rugby field.

Beachside Resort Whitianga's manager said the beach town was "a bit exposed" but he was not too concerned at present.

He said a call would be made to move guests away from the beach-side as needed.


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