Chile quake: This was big but a bigger one awaits, scientist says
April 2, 2014 -- Updated 1123 GMT (1923 HKT)
- Geologists say an even larger quake in the region is lurking
- Scientist: "We do not know when it's going to occur"
- Chile has seen no shortage of seismic activity in recent years
(CNN) -- This one was big but it's not the Big One.
An 8.2-magnitude earthquake struck off the coast of northern Chile Tuesday night, triggering small landslides, setting off a tsunami and killing at least five people.
But geologists say an even larger quake in the region is lurking.
Heavy machinery is used to clear debris on the road leading to the town of Camarones, Chile, on Thursday, April 3. Access to the town was cut off when an 8.2-magnitude earthquake struck northern Chile on April 1.
Photos: Earthquake off Chilean coast
"This magnitude 8.2 is not the large earthquake that we were expecting in this area," said Mark Simons, a geophysicist at Caltech in Pasadena, California. "We're expecting a potentially even larger earthquake."
Chile quake sparks mass evactuations
Pres.: Chile faced emergency 'very well'
It could be tomorrow. Or it could be 50 years.
Expert: Tsunami waves move like a jet
"We do not know when it's going to occur," he said.
Chile sits on an arc of volcanos and fault lines circling the Pacific Ocean known as the "Ring of Fire." This area sees frequent earthquakes and volcanic eruptions.
The country itself has seen no shortage of seismic activity in recent years.
Since 1973, Chile has had more than a dozen quakes of magnitude-7.0 and above.
Powerful earthquake strikes off Chile, triggers tsunami
In 2010, about 500 people died when an 8.8-magnitude earthquake hit. That quake was so violent, it moved one whole city about 10 feet west.
Simons says Tuesday's quake is of interest because the fault line along Chile's coast has constantly shifted during the last 140 years.
In recent weeks, this area has seen a cluster of activity-- something like 50 to 100 smaller quakes.
Then, late last month, a 6.7 and a 6.1 magnitude quake struck.
When quakes happen, the surface ruptures. The two sides of the fault slip past each other.
But the area to the north and south of Tuesday's quake "did not rupture in this event," Simons said. And it's "still an area that hasn't ruptured in 140-odd years."
Given that it's an area of frequent quakes, and frequent ruptures, it may only be a matter of time.
"We expect another 8.8-8.9 earthquake here sometime in the future," Simons said.
The good news? "It may not occur for many, many years."
What you need to know about earthquakes
Measuring the magnitude of earthquakes
The place where two earthquakes hit every hour
Today's five most popular stories
Part of complete coverage on
October 24, 2014 -- Updated 0242 GMT (1042 HKT)
Successful launch of lunar orbiter, seen as a precursor for a planned mission to the surface of the moon, marks significant advance for the country's space program.
October 23, 2014 -- Updated 1915 GMT (0315 HKT)
Cpl. Nathan Cirillo, shot while standing guard at Ottawa's National War Memorial, was known for his easygoing manner and smile.
October 22, 2014 -- Updated 2006 GMT (0406 HKT)
Non-stop chatter about actress' appearance is nasty, cruel, hurtful, invasive and sexist.
October 23, 2014 -- Updated 2208 GMT (0608 HKT)
CEO's 30-min Putonghua chat is the perfect charm offensive for Facebook's last untapped market.
October 24, 2014 -- Updated 0345 GMT (1145 HKT)
Chinese leaders want less odd architecture built in the country.
October 22, 2014 -- Updated 2058 GMT (0458 HKT)
Air New Zealand's new 'Hobbit' safety video stars Peter Jackson, Elijah Wood, elves and orcs.
October 23, 2014 -- Updated 1414 GMT (2214 HKT)
A 15-year-old pregnant girl is rescued from slavery, only to be charged with having sex outside of marriage, shocked rights activists say -- a charge potentially punishable by death.
October 22, 2014 -- Updated 0333 GMT (1133 HKT)
After sushi and ramen, beef is on the list of must-eats for many visitors to Japan.
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 1607 GMT (0007 HKT)
Airports judged on comfort, conveniences, cleanliness and customer service.
October 22, 2014 -- Updated 1748 GMT (0148 HKT)
Scientists use CT scans to recreate a life-size image of the ancient king.
October 22, 2014 -- Updated 0959 GMT (1759 HKT)
Despite billions spent on eradicating poppy production, Afghan farmers are growing bumper crops, a U.S. government report says.
October 24, 2014 -- Updated 1021 GMT (1821 HKT)
Each day, CNN brings you an image capturing a moment to remember, defining the present in our changing world.
Browse through images from CNN teams around the world that you don't always see on news reports.