A powerful 8.2-magnitude earthquake hit northern Chile’s Pacific coast, killing at least six people as tsunami waves of more than two metres lashed the shore.
The quake sent panicked residents pouring into the streets, with more than 900,000 people along Chile’s coast heeding government orders to evacuate their homes and seek higher ground.
Similar warnings were issued in a ripple effect up the Pacific coast of South America and into Central America.
But about 10 hours after the two-minute quake yesterday, the Chilean government lifted what remained of a nationwide tsunami alert.
People began trickling home after spending hours outside in the middle of the night although the Interior Ministry asked them to remain on alert, as sea levels will remain as much as a metre higher than usual.
Some fires broke out, roads were damaged and power was knocked out in the northern city of Arica, although there was no widespread destruction from the latest mighty quake in one of the world’s most seismically active countries, said the disaster relief agency ONEMI.
“The street lights were busted, people ran terrified. After the earthquake there were several aftershocks,” Veronica Castillo told AFP from Arica, 1,000 miles north of the capital Santiago.
The government said that so far there have been 17 aftershocks and there will be more in coming days as some energy from the quake zone has yet to be released, according to Sergio Barrientos of the seismological service at the University of Chile.
President Michelle Bachelet declared parts of northern Chile to be disaster zones and said soldiers will be dispatched to the areas to prevent looting and disorder from breaking out as they did after a deadly 8.8-magnitude quake in 2010. More than 500 people died and USD 30 billion in damage was wrought in that quake.