IQUIQUE, Chile — Authorities in northern Chile reported six deaths and surprisingly little damage Wednesday from a magnitude-8.2 quake — a remarkably low toll for such a powerful shift in the Earth’s crust.
President Michelle Bachelet declared a state of emergency and reviewed the damage in Iquique, a northern coastal city of nearly 200,000 near where the quake struck in the Pacific Ocean. A planeload of 100 anti-riot police officers was deployed along with 300 soldiers to prevent looting and round up escaped prisoners.
Thousands of people who were evacuated from low-lying areas returned home after spending a long night outside because of the threat of a tsunami. The government’s mandatory order to leave the coast was spread through cellphone text messages and Twitter, and reinforced by blaring sirens in neighborhoods where people regularly practice earthquake drills.
The tsunami lifted fishing boats onto city streets and sank others in the port of Iquique, but no other major damage from the sea was apparent. Chile’s entire coast was initially subject to the mandatory evacuation order, which lasted nearly 10 hours in coastal communities closest to the offshore epicenter.
The shaking that began at 8:46 p.m. Tuesday also touched off landslides that blocked roads, knocked out power for thousands, damaged an airport and started fires that destroyed several businesses.
Shaky cellphone videos taken by people eating dinner show light fixtures swaying and furniture shaking. People could be seen running to safety, pulling their children under restaurant tables, running for exits and shouting to turn off natural gas connections.
Bachelet, who returned to the presidency just three weeks ago, waited five hours after the quake struck to address her nation. It was not lost on many Chileans that the last time she presided over a major quake, days before the end of her 2006-2010 term, her emergency preparedness office prematurely waved off a tsunami danger.
Most of the 500 dead from that magnitude-8.8 temblor survived the shaking, only to be caught in killer waves in a disaster that destroyed 220,000 homes and washed away large parts of many coastal communities.