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 below the seabed and struck about 100 km northwest of the mining port of Iquique near the Peruvian border.
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 cancelled in most of the country on Wednesday. LATAM Airlines said it had cancelled some flights to and from Antofagasta, Iquique and Arica in northern Chile.
The Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre 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 cancelled their tsunami warning for most coastal areas.