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Chilean President Michelle Bachelet declared a "state of catastrophe" and appealed for people to remain calm. Drivers abandoned their vehicles in Santiago as the roads buckled underneath them.
Cars were overturned after a motorway near Santiago collapsed during the earthquake. The main international airport at Santiago has been closed and all flights cancelled until further notice.
Buildings have been destroyed or damaged in a number of cities and towns across central Chile, including Vina del Mar where a wall of a hotel sheared off, revealing the rooms within.
President Bachelet said all emergency services had been mobilised and were doing everything they could to help people.
Tourists waited outside their damaged hotel in Vina del Mar after the quake hit
Many people left their homes after the earthquake, fearing that the many aftershocks could topple damaged buildings
In Talca, 65 miles from the epicentre, the town's historic centre collapsed but many buildings were not inhabited at the time of the quake
Chile has been hit by powerful earthquake, with the shock felt from the capital Santiago, as pictured, to as far away as Buenos Aires in Argentina. The epicentre was 115km (70 miles) north-east of Concepcion, Chile's second city
Many people left their homes after the earthquake, fearing that aftershocks could topple damaged buildings. In Santiago, apartment buildings lean alarmingly as residents can only look from a safe distance
Chile's President Michelle Bachelet looks at collapsed houses after an earthquake in Concepcion, Chile, Saturday, Feb. 27, 2010. (AP Photo/Chile Presidency)
more picture to update..................