A magnitude-8.2 earthquake struck off Chile\’s northern coast on Tuesday night, causing landslides and setting off a small tsunami that forced an evacuation of coastal areas.
The U.S. Geological Survey said the earthquake was centered about 100 kilometers northwest of Iquique Tuesday evening. Several aftershocks followed, including one measuring magnitude 6.2.
Tens of thousands of people were evacuated in affected areas, where a state of emergency has been declared.
Chilean TV broadcast pictures of traffic jams as people tried to leave.
Officials said the dead included people who were crushed by collapsing walls or died of heart attacks.
Iquique Governor Gonzalo Prieto told local media that in addition to those killed, several people had been seriously injured.
Chilean authorities said waves measuring about two meters were striking cities along the coast. Officials quickly ordered evacuations, warning that larger waves are expected later.
Interior Minister Rodrigo Penailillo said at least five people died after being crushed by collapsing walls or experiencing heart attacks. He also said about 300 inmates escaped a woman\’s prison in Iquique. Troops have been deployed to prevent looting.
Though there have been no reports of widespread damage, Chile\’s emergency office said landslides are partially blocking some roads and highways. Thousands also experienced power outages, while others were forced to spend the night outside.
A tsunami alert has been issued for the entire Pacific coast of Central and South America.
Further damage may not be known until dawn. The tsunami warning in Chile will last at least until 08:00 GMT.
The quake shook modern buildings in Peru and in Bolivia\’s high altitude capital of La Paz – more than 470km (290 miles) from Iquique.
At least eight strong aftershocks followed in the few hours after the quake, including a 6.2 tremor.
U.S. officials say they have found no imminent threat of a tsunami along the coasts of Hawaii, Alaska, California, Oregon or Washington state after the earthquake near Chile, but the danger is still under evaluation.
Chile is one of the world\’s most earthquake prone countries. In 2010, a 8.8-magnitude quake rocked central Chile, killing over 500 people and destroying 220,000 homes.
The region hit by Tuesday\’s quake had also experienced several smaller temblors in recent days, including a 6.0-magnitude earthquake on Sunday.
In 1960 an area of Chile south of Concepcion was hit by a 9.5 magnitude which caused about 1,655 deaths and a tsunami in Hawaii and Japan.
The 9.0 magnitude quake that struck Japan on 11 March 2011 caused a devastating tsunami and left more than 15,000 people dead, with more than 3,200 missing.
Source – Agencies