Six killed as earthquake, then tsunami, hit Chile's coast
A POWERFUL 8.2-magnitude earthquake hit Chile's Pacific coast early yesterday, killing six people as tsunami waves of more than two metres lashed the shore.
Chile has bitter experience in dealing with quakes and it is understood that buildings designed to cope with the impact of aftershocks played a significant part in keeping the death toll down.
Panicked residents poured into the streets after the authorities ordered them to flee to higher ground, while President Michelle Bachelet declared parts of northern Chile hit by the offshore quake to be a disaster zone.
"The street lights were busted, people ran terrified. After the earthquake there were several aftershocks," said Veronica Castillo, in Arica, 1,000 miles north of the Chilean capital Santiago.
In the northern city of Iquique, closest to the epicentre, some 300 women prisoners escaped from a jail amid the chaos triggered by the big tremor, which lasted two minutes.
The quake struck at 8.46pm local time (11.46pm Irish time) at a depth of 10 kilometres, 83 kilometres from Iquique on Chile's northern coast, the United States Geological Survey said.
The Hawaii-based Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre issued an alert for residents living along more than 4,800 kilometres (3,000 miles) of coastline in South America.
It said waves of more than two metres had been generated.
Disaster relief agency ONEMI's director Ricardo Toro said the quake had not caused major damage.
Still, the control tower at Iquique airport was hit, as were roads out of the city.
Power cuts in the city of Arica left 80pc of it in the dark.
Amid the Chilean government's evacuation order, its Ecuadoran and Peruvian counterparts also issued warnings.
Ecuador later reduced its alert from red to amber but maintained the higher level of vigilance on the exposed Galapagos Islands out in the Pacific.
Tremors were felt as far inland as Bolivia, and the quake was followed by a weaker 6.2 magnitude aftershock.
In Chile, Mr Toro said the first waves of the tsunami had reached Pisagua, on the northern coast. Rodrigo Penailillo, the interior minister, announced at around 7am local time that the country's tsunami alert had been called off.
CNN showed footage of streets full of panicked people and some buildings burning brightly against the night sky.
The rush to evacuate to safe areas caused traffic jams, but no cuts in telephone service or drinking water were reported. There were power outages in some areas.
In Peru, the southern coastal area was also put on alert while roads along the coast were closed, said the mayor of the capital, Susana Villaran.
"This is a warning for the population to take all precautionary measures," Peruvian naval commander Colbert Ruiz said.
"An alert means being on watch but does not confirm the arrival of a tsunami," he said. "So far, there is nothing."
Honduras in Central America also declared a tsunami alert, but Nicaragua called off one it had declared earlier.
The Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre also issued a warning for Colombia and Panama, and "watches" for at least six other countries.
Chile is one of the most seismically active countries in the world, and a large earthquake has long been expected in the north of the country.
In February 2010, central and southern Chile were hit by a powerful earthquake of 8.8-magnitude followed by a tsunami that devastated dozens of towns. The quake left more than 500 dead and $30bn (€22bn) in damage to infrastructure.
The same coastal area has been the scene of numerous quakes in recent days.
On Sunday, a 6.0-magnitude earthquake struck, followed by at least two moderate aftershocks. (Reuters)