Chile Earthquake Triggers Power Cuts, A Small Tsanami, And Even A Prison Break

A powerful earthquake that struck off the coast of Chile Tuesday night has so far claimed the lives of five. Interior Minister Rodrigo Peñailillo said four men and one woman have died, two as a result of heart attacks and three who were crushed by debris. The earthquake also caused small landslides, which triggered power cuts, a small tsunami and a prison break. The tsunami warning has now been called off for the region.

The 8.2-magnitude earthquake hit at around 8:46 p.m. local time, approximately 61 miles northwest of the Chilean city of Iquique, a mining port near the Peruvian border. The U.S. Geological Survey said the quake was shallow, at around 12.5 miles below the sea bed. The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center said that shortly after the earthquake hit, a six-foot tsunami hit Pisagua, Chile. Some damage to roads has been reported.

Last night the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center issued a tsunami alert for the entire South American Pacific coastline and Hawaii. This was later confined to just Chile and Peru.

The alert for Hawaii also still remains in place, but it is not thought the waves will be strong enough to cause any damage or flooding, and nobody will need to evacuate. However, the strong currents could cause problems for those out on the water sailing, swimming or fishing.

Evacuation orders were issued for the cities of Arica, Iquique and Antofagasta, all of which are situated in low-lying coastal areas. Residents were evacuated to much higher ground further inland. Seven-foot waves have reportedly pummeled Iquique's shoreline.

The mayor of Arica, Salvador Urrutia, said that some homes in his city have been damaged, but that more modern structures were weathering the earthquake well. Only minor injuries have been reported among Arica's residents, although the city is without power and cell phone service.

In recent weeks the area around Iquique has suffered two other significant earthquakes. The first, on March 16, registered a magnitude of 6.7, and the second a week later was 6.1-magnitude.

Tuesday's earthquake was so powerful that Bolivia's capital, almost 300 miles away, experienced the equivalent of a 4.5-magnitude tremor. The quake also triggered at least eight significant aftershocks in the hours following, one of which registered a magnitude of 6.2.

President Michelle Bachelet declared Chile's northern coast a disaster area, and promised to send troops and police reinforcements to the area to maintain public order while the infrastructure is repaired. Bachelet said she would travel to the region herself on Wednesday.

Part of the reason why extra police are needed in the area is that about 300 prisoners at a women's penitentiary in Iquique took advantage of the earthquake and broke free. Around 26 of the women have been recaptured, according to reports, but the rest remain at large. There has also been some isolated reports of looting in the area.

All told, for an earthquake of this magnitude it seems that so far Chile has managed to successfully avoid a major disaster. Back in February 2010 an 8.8-magnitude earthquake off Chile's central coast left at least 525 people dead. A catastrophic tsunami that came in the earthquake's wake was powerful enough to bring down buildings, and researchers claim that the quake actually moved the Chilean city of Concepcion at least 10 feet to the west.

However, this is not the last earthquake that Chile will see. Sitting on the so-called "Ring of Fire," which is an arc of volcanoes and fault lines, Chile is extremely earthquake-prone — and researchers are predicting a much bigger tremor in the area. The only question is when.

Image: Twitter/ItsDavidFord