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A massive 8.2-magnitude earthquake hit Chile’s northern coast Tuesday night, causing a tsunami. The US Geological Survey (USGS) reported the quake occurred 86 km (52 miles) north-west of Iquique at 20:46 local time (23:46 GMT). The depth of the quake is said to be 20 km.
The earthquake generated a powerful tsunami, with the highest wave (at 2 meters) hitting the cities on the northern coast within 45 minutes, said the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center (TWC).
Five people were reportedly killed and several seriously injured in the aftermath. Hundreds of thousands of Chileans have been evacuated as a state of emergency was declared following landslides, power cuts and fire in the worst-affected areas.
About 300 inmates from a women’s prison escaped in a bid to save themselves following the earthquake.
Rodrigo Peñailillo, Chile’s interior minister, said: “We have taken various public safety measures due to the mass escape of over 300 female inmates at their prison in Iquique.
“Personnel from the armed forces are working in collaboration with police under the leadership of the government to offer security and peace of mind to the residents of Iquique.”
Anti-riot police force has been deployed to recapture the inmates and prevent looting.
People evacuating along the coastline were stuck in heavy traffic jams due to landslides, the Chilean TV broadcasts showed.
At least 29 major aftershocks were reported, including a 6.2 tremor at 12 minutes after the initial quake. The TWC issued an early warning for Chile, Colombia, Panama, Peru and Ecuador. All alerts have now been cancelled, except for Chile and Peru.
According to the USGS, “thrust faulting” in the shallow waters along the Chilean coast led to the earthquake. “The April 1, 2014 M8.2 earthquake in northern Chile occurred as the result of thrust faulting at shallow depths near the Chilean coast. The location and mechanism of the earthquake are consistent with slip on the primary plate boundary interface, or megathrust, between the Nazca and South America plates,” it said.
Low lying areas have been flooded and the Chilean government has ordered the military in to help in the tsunami-affected regions. Being seismically-prone, Chile has strict tremor-proof building regulations and residents are alert and stay calm during earthquakes, helping keep casualties in check.
President Michelle Bachelet gave a televised speech and praised Chile’s initial response to the earthquake: “The government will work for as long as necessary to confront this emergency,” reported the Mirror.
The quake was felt in Peru and La Paz, the high-altitude capital of Bolivia, situated more than 470 km (290 miles) from Iquique.
An alert has been sent out for Hawaii as strong currents may occur along its coasts as the tsunami is expected to strike at around lunchtime today. An advisory has been issued for swimmers, sailors and people along the beaches. Geophysicist Gerard Fryer said the advisory for Hawaii will remain till around 7 a.m. local time on Wednesday. “We’re sure the waves are not going to be large enough to cause any flooding,” he added.
In 2010, an 8.8-magnitude quake led to a tsunami that ravaged several coastal towns in central-south Chile and killed hundreds of people.
Watch here as residents of Chile evacuate after the earthquake.