People stand in line to buy fuel in the northern port of
Iquique after the earthquake. REUTERS/Luis Hidalgo/Pool
Chilean authorities are assessing the damage from a
massive earthquake that struck off the northern coast, causing
a small tsunami, but the impact was mostly limited, according
to early indications.
Thousands of people who evacuated the country's low-lying
coastal areas returned home on Wednesday morning (local time)
after authorities called off a tsunami alarm.
The 8.2 magnitude quake that shook northern Chile on Tuesday
killed six people and triggered a tsunami that pounded the
shore with 2-meter (7-foot) waves.
Authorities evaluated the damage on Wednesday as the ocean
waves receded and daylight showed the full extent of the
Mines in Chile, the world's No. 1 copper producer, mostly
said they were functioning normally, and oil refineries
reported normal operations.
The arid, mineral-rich north is sparsely populated, with most
of the population concentrated in the port towns of Iquique
and Arica, near the Peruvian border.
In Peru, the earthquake led to temporary power outages and
evacuations in some southern towns, but did not cause serious
damage or injuries.
Chilean President Michelle Bachelet visited the affected area
on Wednesday. She declared a disaster zone, promising troops
and police reinforcements to maintain order while damage was
repaired after landslides blocked a number of roads.
Local television showed smaller fishing vessels badly damaged
and overturned in Iquique. Although the tsunami alert was
called off, the navy warned that high waves and strong
currents could continue, and ports in the area remained
Several smaller aftershocks, some as big as 5.2 magnitude,
were registered over Tuesday night and Wednesday morning,
according to Chile's emergency office.
Over 900,000 people were evacuated from the coastline along
Chile on Tuesday, according to the government's emergency
office, in a move that local media reported took place in a
largely orderly fashion.
Thousands of miles away in Hawaii, residents were warned by
the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center of possible sea level
changes and strong currents that could pose a danger to
swimmers and boaters.
It was too early to estimate financial losses, but they were
expected to be much lower than the $30 billion from the
devastating 8.8 magnitude quake in 2010, which affected the
more densely populated central region, said earthquake expert
Alexander Allmann at reinsurer Munich Re.
"The quake has caused severe damage to some buildings in the
affected region, but in general the building standards in
Chile are comparatively high, allowing buildings and
infrastructure to withstand such quakes reasonably well,"
"The small tsunami triggered by the quake is not expected to
have caused significant damage."
THE BIG ONE
Chileans live in one of the most earthquake-prone areas of
the world. In 1960, southern Chile was hit by a 9.5 quake,
the largest in modern history.
Residents in the area of the latest quake have been expecting
"the big one" for many years. The Nazca and South American
tectonic plates rub up against each other just off the coast
of Iquique, where a "seismic gap" has been building up.
An unusually large number of tremors in the area in recent
weeks had led authorities to reinforce emergency procedures,
while residents bought emergency rations, and prepared for an
"The government of Chile has been working hard to improve the
awareness of people living along the coast to the threat from
tsunamis," said Steven Godby, an expert in disaster
management at Nottingham Trent University in Nottingham,
"Several tsunami drills have taken place since the
(earthquake and) tsunami that killed an estimated 500 plus
Chileans in February 2010, and recent earthquakes in the
region have helped to keep the threat firmly in people's
minds," he added.