April 2, 2014 / 12:30 AM / 4 years ago

UPDATE 10-Huge earthquake off Chile's north coast triggers tsunami

* Five dead after powerful quake triggers tsunami
    * Epicenter of quake off Chile's northwest coast
    * President Bachelet to visit affected area Wednesday
    * Copper mines not significantly interrupted by quake

    By Anthony Esposito and Rosalba O'Brien
    SANTIAGO, April 1 (Reuters) - A major earthquake of
magnitude 8.2 struck off the coast of  northern Chile on
Tuesday, causing five deaths and triggering a tsunami that
pounded the shore with 2-meter-tall waves.
    Officials said the dead included people who were crushed by
collapsing walls or were killed by heart attacks.
    The government evacuated Chile's northern coast and     
President Michelle Bachelet declared the area a disaster zone,
promising troops and police reinforcements to maintain public
order while damage was repaired after landslides blocked roads.
    "We're leaving with the children and what we can, but
everything is clogged up by people fleeing buildings by the
beach," said 32-year old Liliana Arriaza, who was driving away
with her three children.    
    The U.S. Geological Survey said the quake was shallow at
12.5 miles (20.1 km) below the seabed and struck about 100 km 
northwest of the mining port of Iquique near the Peruvian
    Mining in the world's No. 1 copper producer did not appear
significantly interrupted, but about 300 prisoners took
advantage of the emergency and escaped from a female
penitentiary in Iquique.
    About 26 of the women were soon recaptured, authorities
said, while security forces fanned out through the area amid
reports of power outages and isolated looting. 
    Photos showed Chileans calmly evacuating coastal areas on
foot, with policemen helping bundled-up elderly people and some
residents loading up vehicles with their belongings. 
    Some schools were being used to shelter people, and classes
were canceled in most of the country on Wednesday. LATAM
Airlines said it had canceled some flights to and from
Antofagasta, Iquique and Arica in northern Chile. 
    The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center said the quake generated
a large tsunami with the biggest wave reported at about 2 
meters. The Chilean navy said the first big wave hit the coast
within 45 minutes. Early on Wednesday Chilean authorities
canceled their tsunami warning for most coastal areas.
    Iquique is a key port, close to Chile's main copper mines.
The area has been on high alert in recent weeks after an unusual
number of tremors, and a series of aftershocks further frayed
nerves in the early hours of Wednesday.
    The city is more than 1,500 km north of Chile's capital
Santiago, where the quake was not felt.
    Seismic Chile has strict tremor-proof construction
regulations and most residents stay calm during quakes, which
helps to limit harm. 
    Lauding Chile's initial response to the quake, President
Bachelet said in a televised address: "The government will work
for as long as necessary to confront this emergency."
    The center-left president, who only returned to power last
month, was due to travel to the north on Wednesday morning.    
    In 2010, at the end of Bachelet's first term as president,
an 8.8-magnitude quake triggered a tsunami that devastated
several coastal towns in central-south Chile, a disaster that
killed 526 people. 
    State-owned miner Codelco and other major copper companies
reported no harm to workers or mines and said operations in
northern Chile were normal. Still, the massive Collahuasi mine
evacuated workers so they could be with their families.
    A tsunami warning was issued for the Pacific coast of Mexico
through Central and South America.
    "An earthquake of this size has the potential to generate a
destructive tsunami that can strike coastlines near the
epicenter within minutes and more distant coastlines within
hours," the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center said.
    A tsunami advisory was issued for Hawaii, although no
disaster was expected to hit the island state.
    "Sea level changes and strong currents may occur along all
coasts that could be a hazard to swimmers and boaters as well as
to persons near the shore at beaches and in harbors and
marinas," the warning center said. 
    Authorities in Peru started evacuating communities in the
southern coastal region of Ica. Electricity was partially lost
in the Peruvian cities of Tacna, Moquegua and Arequipa but there
were no reports of deaths or serious damage there. 
    Nearly 11,000 miles (about 17,000 km) northwest of Chile
across the ocean, Japan's Meteorological Agency said a tsunami
of up to one meter high might hit Japan's Pacific coast about
5am on Thursday (2000 GMT Wednesday). After collecting more
data, it said it may issue a tsunami advisory early on Thursday.

 (Additional reporting by Alexandra Ulmer, Fabian Cambero,
Antonio De la Jara and Felipe Iturrieta in Santiago, Sandra
Maler in Washington and Mitra Taj in Lima; Writing by Hugh
Bronstein; Additional writing by Alexandra Ulmer; Editing by
Gareth Jones)
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