Authorities lifted tsunami warnings for Chile's long coastline early Wednesday after a magnitude-8.2 earthquake struck the South American nation's northern coast. Six people were crushed to death or suffered fatal heart attacks, a remarkably low toll for such a powerful shift in the Earth's crust.
The extent of damage from Tuesday night's quake couldn't be fully assessed before daybreak, President Michelle Bachelet said, but she wasn't taking any chances. She declared a state of emergency in the region and sent a military plane with 100 anti-riot police to join 300 soldiers deployed to prevent looting and round up escaped prisoners.
Thousands were evacuated from low-lying areas, but most began to return home as the tsunami alerts were lifted along Chile's long coast.
The shaking touched off landslides that blocked roads, knocked out power for thousands, damaged an airport and started fires that destroyed several businesses. About 300 inmates escaped from a women's prison in the city of Iquique, forcing the closure of the border with Peru. Officials said some two dozen had been captured early Wednesday. In Arica, another city close to the quake's offshore epicenter, hospitals treated minor injuries, and some homes made of adobe were destroyed, authorities said. Mining in Chile, which is the world's top copper producing nation, was not affected, although world prices for the red metal jumped as the quake raised supply concerns because most of the Chilean mining industry is in the northern regions.
Chile's Navy lifted tsunami warnings for all of Chile long coastline at around 7 a.m. local time (11 a.m. GMT). The mandatory evacuation orders had remained in effect until nearly dawn for coastal areas north of Antofagasta, a decision backed by the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center in Hawaii, regarding the coastline of Chile as still dangerous.
Bachelet, who just returned to the presidency three weeks ago, spoke well after midnight, five hours after the quake struck and flew to quake-hit regions on Wednesday morning to assess the damage.
It was not lost on many Chileans that the last time she presided over a major quake, days before the end of her 2006-10 term, her emergency preparedness office prematurely waved off a tsunami danger. Most of the 500 dead from that magnitude-8.8 tremor survived the shaking, only to be caught in killer waves in a disaster that destroyed 220,000 homes and washed away large parts of many coastal communities.
"The country has done a good job of confronting the emergency. I call on everyone to stay calm and follow the authorities' instructions," Bachelet tweeted after Tuesday night's temblor.