A massive earthquake occurred off the coast of northern Chile on Tuesday night, setting off a small tsunami. The wave of sea water forced evacuations along the country’s entire Pacific coast. The quake was one of several to hit the region over the past two weeks.
Tuesday’s magnitude 8.2 quake struck 61 miles northwest of Iquique, Chile, a northern coastal city with a population of 200,000 people. Tremors were felt 290 miles away in La Paz, the capital of Bolivia. The shaking in La Paz was the equivalent of a 4.5 magnitude tremor, authorities there said. The earthquake also set off tsunami warnings in Hawaii, thousands of miles away.
The quake began at 8:46 p.m. local time and set off landslides that blocked roads, knocked out power for thousands of people, damaged an airport, and started fires that destroyed several businesses. Authorities reported a total of six deaths. Chilean President Michelle Bachelet declared a state of emergency and was reviewing damage in Iquique.
The country appeared to get through the incident mostly unharmed. Thousands of people moved inland as waves measuring more than six feet struck coastal cities. The mandatory evacuation order lasted nearly 10 hours. While the tsunami lifted some fishing boats onto city streets and sunk others, it otherwise caused no major damage.
Most of the mining industry in Chile—the world’s leading copper producer—is located in the northern regions. So far, none of the top mining companies in the area appears to have been affected.
In Iquique, about 300 inmates escaped from a women’s prison. Security officials were sent to the city to protect it from looting and several dozen prisoners were quickly captured. Hundreds of soldiers were also sent to the quake zone. “We have taken action to ensure public order in the case of Iquique,” Interior Minister Rodrigo Penailillo said, “so that the armed forces and police can coordinate and provide tranquility and security to the residents.”
“The country has done a good job of confronting the emergency,” Bachelet said in a message posted on Twitter. “I call on everyone to stay calm and follow the authorities’ instructions.”