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Chile earthquake, Hawaii tsunami: Why this happens

The earthquake in Chile is a reminder of the lively geological activity under Earth's surface.

A Santiago apartment block shows major damage after Saturday's 8.8 magnitude earthquake in Chile. The quake earthquake and the Hawaii tsunami warnings it spawned are just reminders that our Earth is always moving.

Marco Fredes/Reuters

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The great earthquake that struck off the Chilean coast early Saturday serves as a stark reminder that the most violent earthquakes Earth’s restless crust can deliver happen along geological features that also appear along the Aleutian Islands, off the Pacific Northwest, and in the Caribbean.

“We have the threat of this kind of earthquake and tsunami in our back yards,” says Brian Atwater, a geophysicist at the University of Washington in Seattle.

The magnitude 8.8 quake that hit Chile some 70 miles northeast of the coastal city of Concepcion resulted from action along what earth scientists call a subduction zone. A vast plate of oceanic crust known as the Nazca plate is sliding at a relatively speedy clip beneath the more buoyant continental crust of South America.

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