An 8.2 magnitude earthquake off the coast of Chile has killed at least six people. It triggered a two-meter high tsunami in the country's north and mass evacuations of coastal areas. Authorities remain on alert.
Soldiers and extra police were deployed to keep order in the worst-hit areas of northern Chile after the strong offshore earthquake struck at 20 kilometers (12.5 miles) deep, about 100 kilometers off the country's coast at 8.46 p.m. Tuesday (2346 GMT).
Chilean President Michelle Bachelet was due to travel to the regions of Arica and Tarapaca to survey the damage on Wednesday, after declaring the area a disaster zone.
At least six people died as a result of the earthquake in the cities of Iquaigue and Alto Hospicio. Their deaths were caused by heart attacks or being crushed by debris, Interior Minister Rodrigo Penalillo said.
The earthquake triggered fears of a tsunami, resulting in large-scale evacuations along the coast, but fears of a destructive tidal wave faded as the hours passed, with the tsunami alert across all of Chile's long coast lifted at 1100 UTC.
The Chilean navy reported a two-meter wave hitting the country's northern coast about 45 minutes after the earthquake. A 45-centimeter (18 inch) wave reached Peru.
Throughout the Pacific islands and Indonesia, people were urged to be cautious around the coast through Wednesday and Thursday.
"Sea level changes and strong currents may occur along all coasts that could be a hazard to swimmers and boaters as well as to persons near the shore at beaches and in harbors and marinas," the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center said.
Prisoner escape, looting reports
More than 300 inmates at a women's prison in the northern Chilean city of Iquique reportedly escaped shortly after the earthquake. Security forces were deployed to prevent looting and keep order in the affected areas.
Chile, a seismically active country, has strict construction regulations and most residents are accustomed to earthquakes.
In 2010, 526 people were killed in an 8.8 magnitude earthquake which triggered a tsunami and devastated coastal towns in the center and south of the country.
Mining in the country, which is a major producer of copper , was not interrupted by Wednesday's tremors.
se/jlw (dpa, Reuters, AFP)