5 dead in magnitude 8.2 quake off Chile
Updated: 2014-04-02 08:32
Residents are evacuated from buildings in Iquique, northern Chile, after a magnitude 8.0 earthquake off Chile's coastline triggered a tsunami alert, April 2, 2014. [Photo/Xinhua]
A powerful magnitude-8.2 earthquake struck off northern Chile on Tuesday night, setting off a small tsunami that forced evacuations along the country's entire Pacific coast.
Officials reported two deaths and several serious injuries, but the area apparently escaped major damage as landslides blocked roads, power failed for thousands, an airport was damaged and several businesses caught fire.
About 300 inmates escaped from a women's prison in the city of Iquique, and officials said Chile's military was sending a planeload of special forces to guard against looting.
In the city of Arica, the mayor reported some minor injuries and said some homes made of adobe were destroyed. The quake shook modern buildings in nearby Peru and in Bolivia's high altitude capital of La Paz.
The US Geological Survey initially reported the quake at 8.0, but later upgraded the magnitude. It said the quake struck 61 miles (99 kilometers) northwest of the Chilean city of Iquique at 8:46 pm, hitting a region that has been rocked by numerous quakes over the past two weeks.
The government said it had no reports of significant damage to coastal areas, but around 300 prisoners took advantage of the confusion and escaped from a jail in Iquique, Interior Minister Rodrigo Penailillo said.
The quake was so strong that the shaking experienced in Bolivia's capital about 290 miles (470 kilometers) away was the equivalent of a 4.5-magnitude tremor, authorities there said.
At least eight strong aftershocks followed in the first few hours, including a 6.2 tremor. More aftershocks and even a larger quake could not be ruled out, said seismologist Mario Pardo at the University of Chile.
Some roads in northern Chile were blocked by landslides, causing traffic jams among people leaving the coast.
Coastal residents of northern Chile evacuated calmly as waves measuring almost 2 meters (6 feet) struck their cities ahead of a tsunami that was expected to come ashore later.
Evacuations also were ordered in Peru, where waves 2 meters above normal forced about 200 people to leave the seaside town of Boca del Rio. But there were no injuries or major damage, said Col. Enrique Blanco, the regional police chief in Tacna, a Peruvian city of 300,000 near the Chilean border.
"The lights went out briefly, but were re-established," Blanco said.
A tsunami alert was issued by the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center for all of Latin America's Pacific coast, and Chile's Emergency Office warned that a large tsunami wave was expected to hit Robinson Crusoe island and others in the Juan Fernandez archipelago, hundreds of miles off Chile's central coast, just before midnight local time.
Authorities in the US state of Hawaii were on alert, but no tsunami watch was issued. The tsunami center said any higher waves would hit Hawaii starting 3:24 am Hawaii Standard Time.