SANTIAGO: A powerful 8.2-magnitude earthquake hit northern Chile’s Pacific coast on Tuesday, killing at least six people as tsunami waves of more than two meters 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.
But by yesterday morning thousands of people had begun returning home with the arrival of daylight to survey the destruction.
Chilean television showed sagging roofs, broken windows and shelves and merchandise on the floor at shopping centres in Iquique, the city closest to the quake’s epicentre.
Thousands of people had slept in the open on hills surrounding the city during the night, waiting out a tsunami alert.
Similar evacuation warnings were issued in a ripple effect up the Pacific coast of South America and into Central America.
About 10 hours after the two-minute quake, the Chilean government lifted what remained of the nationwide tsunami alert.
Chilean Interior Ministry Rodrigo Penailillo asked people returning home to remain on alert, as sea levels will remain as much as a metre higher than usual.
He said six people — four men and two women — were killed in Iquique and the nearby Alto Hospicio municipality.
Some fires broke out, roads were damaged and power was knocked out in the northern city of Arica, although there was no widespread destruction, said 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.
In Iquique, fisherman reported that 80 boats had been destroyed, sunk or floated out to sea.
The city’s airport control tower was damaged and flights to Iquique, Arica and the northern city of Antofagasta were cancelled. AFP