The quake that struck Chile at 3.34 am Saturday morning was of 8.8 magnitude – far bigger than the magnitude 7 one that devastated Haiti last month.
The death toll currently stands at over 300 but that figure is very provisional.
The first shock lasted a full three minutes with major aftershocks continuing for hours.
From the epicentre near the city of Concepcion to the capital Santiago and far beyond, buildings, roads, power and phone lines have been destroyed, meaning the final figure may not be known for some time.
One woman describes how she was trying to save someone when a painting fell off a wall, knocking her to the ground and pinning her legs under a bed.
She says she managed to get through a hole in the rubble and then rescuers pulled her to safety.
Out-going President, Michelle Bachelet has declared a state of catastrophe in central Chile but says the government has not asked for assistance from other countries.
Damage has been reported from the southern Chilean port of Talcahuano, hit by a tsunami, to across the northern Argentinian town of Salta – across the Andes mountain range.
Santiago’s international airport was closed for at least 24 hours while several copper mines and two oil refineries shut down temporarily.