8.2 quake hits Northern Chile triggering widespread tsunami warning
Armed Forces are maintaining order on the streets of Iquique amid fires and prison escapes following tsunami evacuation order for South America’s Pacific coast.
A massive earthquake struck off the coast of Northern Chile on Tuesday evening prompting tsunami warnings across the Pacific coast, with evacuation ordered for the entire zone until the early hours of Wednesday morning.
The 8.2 magnitude earthquake struck around 55 miles southeast of Cuya, at 8:46 p.m. local time. At least 60 aftershocks and minor earthquakes were registered in the area in the following hours with the largest measuring just below 6 on the Richter scale.
Tsunami warnings were lifted for areas south of Puerto Chacabuco, in Aysén Region, midnight Tuesday. By 3 a.m. Wednesday morning, they were also removed for mainland areas between the cities of Antofagasta and Valparaíso and by 4:30 a.m. only six localities remained under tsunami alert. They were Arica, Pisagua, Iquique, Patache, Mejillones and Tocopilla.
Just before 7 a.m. local time Interior Ministry removed tsunami warnings for the entire country.
The Interior Ministry has confirmed six deaths in Iquique and surrounding areas and at least three people seriously injured so far. The causalities were caused by heart-attacks and falling debris. Minister Rodrigo Peñailillo also stated that fires in Iquique and Arica had been brought under control.
The National Emergency Service (Onemi) said that more than 900,000 people evacuated to safety zones across the nation.
In a televised national address at 1:40 a.m. Wednesday morning, President Michelle Bachelet declared the regions of Arica y Parinacota and Tarapacá as disaster zones. This label issues emerge This label issues emergency powers to military officials to maintain public order and oversee evacuations.
Although no significant structural damage has been confirmed, there are reports of powercuts, fire and flooding in Iquique. Local press have reported some instances of looting.
Interior Minister Rodrigo Peñailillo confirmed more than 300 prisoners from a women’s jail in Iquique escaped while being evacuated, with initial police reports saying that 16 had been recaptured. Armed Forces personnel are reportedly on the streets of northern city to help maintain order.
Estafania Morales, whose family currently lives in Iquique, told The Santiago Times that the initial earthquake was strong and caused widespread fear in the city.
“Everything is in a panic, trees fell, apparently the road linking Iquique and Alto hospicio is cracked,” Morales said Tuesday night. “Everything was falling, televisions, radios, the bathtub broke, the windows etc.”
However, for the residents in coastal northern cities the greatest concern is the possibility of a tsunami.
“The real fear is because of the tsunami,” Morales said. “I have a relative who was sailing, who works as a fisherman, and he says he has been told to go farther out to sea, until later notice, this really worries us.”
National Emergency Services (Onemi) chief Ricardo Toro said that hospitals in the area are functioning as per normal except for 11 which have been evacuated due to tsunami concerns. The evacuated hospitals are Mejillones, Chañaral, Huasco, Taltal, Toltén, Corral, Queilén, Achao, Balmaceda, Puerto Cisnes and Chacabuco.
English teacher Adam Brandon was in class in Arica when the quake struck, he told The Santiago Times that a spate of tremors this year had put locals in good stead for the natural disaster.
“I was actually teaching [the same class] last month and we had get out when there was a tremor so I had had a bit of practice at least,” he said. “Once outside it was obvious how strong it was, cars were noticeably moving and shaking, alarms going off, electricity cables flickering then it went totally black. It was my first experience of an earthquake. My thoughts turned instantly to my wife and my dog at home. I ran home in about 5 minutes … it would normally take twice as long! I was happy to see that my loved ones were fine although clearly a little shaken.”
Adam said that they then housed friends who had evacuated lower lying areas, passing the time with candle-lit card games and even a barbecue before power was restored in the early hours of Wednesday morning.
By Sam Edwards, Charlotte Karrlsson-Willis and Joseph Hinchliffe
Copyright 2014 – The Santiago Times