A powerful 8.2- magnitude earthquake struck off the coast of northern Chile late Tuesday, triggering small landslides, cutting power and generating a tsunami.
Hundreds of thousands of people evacuated from Chile’s low-lying areas returned home Wednesday morning after authorities called off a tsunami alarm as damage from the massive overnight earthquake seemed mostly limited.
Four men and one woman died- two who suffered heart attacks and three who were crushed, said Interior Minister Rodrigo Penaililo.
The U.S. Geological Survey said the quake was shallow at 12.5 miles below the seabed and struck about 950 miles from the capital, Santiago. The most heavily affected area appeared to be the mining port of Iquique near the Peruvian border.
About 300 prisoners escaped from the northern port city of Iquique in the immediate aftermath, he said.
Authorities evaluated the damage on Wednesday as the ocean waves receded and daylight showed the full extent of the outcome.
“The fact is, we will know the extent of the damage as time goes by and when we inspect the areas in the light of day,” Chile’s President Michelle Bachelet said early Wednesday. “The country has faced these first emergency hours very well.”
She declared a disaster zone, promising troops and police reinforcements to maintain order while damage was repaired after landslides blocked a number of roads.
Iquique is a key port, close to Chile’s main copper mines. Chile is the world’s No. 1 copper producer. Most mines said they were functioning normally, and oil refineries reported normal operations.
The area has been on high alert in recent weeks after an unusual number of tremors, and a series of aftershocks further frayed nerves in the early hours Wednesday.
Iquique is a key port, close to Chile's main copper mines. The area has been on high alert in recent weeks after an unusual number of tremors, and a series of aftershocks further frayed nerves in the early hours Wednesday.
“Many people are fearful after experiencing the powerful earthquake in 2010, so they immediately fled for higher ground when they heard the tsunami warning,” said Fabrizio Guzman, World Vision emergency communications manager in Chile.
Thousands of miles away in Hawaii, residents were warned by the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center of possible sea level changes and strong currents that could pose a danger to swimmers and boaters.
It was too early to estimate financial losses, but they were expected to be much lower than the $30 billion from the devastating 8.8 magnitude quake in 2010, which affected the more densely populated central region, said earthquake expert Alexander Allmann at reinsurer Munich Re.
So, if the initial reports stand, Chile may have dodged a major catastrophe.
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