Massive 8.2 earthquake off Chile coast sparks tsunami
Author: Anthony Esposito and Rosalba O'Brien
A major earthquake of magnitude 8.2 struck off the coast of Chile on Tuesday, triggering a tsunami that hit the northern part of the country, but the government reported no deaths or serious damage.
The U.S. Geological Survey said the quake was shallow at 12.5 miles below the seabed and struck about 100 km northwest of the mining port of Iquique near the Peruvian border.
The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center said the quake generated a large tsunami with the biggest wave reported at 2.3 meters. The Chilean navy said the first big wave hit the coast within 45 minutes.
The government said it had no reports of significant damage to coastal areas, but around 300 prisoners took advantage of the confusion and escaped from a jail in Iquique, Interior Minister Rodrigo Penailillo said.
Iquique is a key copper exporting port, close to Chile's main copper mines. The area has been on high alert in recent weeks after an unusual number of tremors.
The government evacuated Chile's northern coast and a tsunami warning was issued for the Pacific coast of Mexico through Central and South America.
Chile is the world's No. 1 copper producer but key mining firms said there was no serious damage to their operations. The tsunami alert in the country would however go on for at least another six hours, the government said late on Tuesday.
In 2010, an 8.8-magnitude quake triggered a tsunami that devastated several coastal towns in central-south Chile, a disaster that killed 526 people.
Chile's ONEMI emergency office said late on Tuesday that landslides were partially blocking some roads and highways, and local radio stations said power went out in Iquique.
State-owned miner Codelco reported no harm to its workers or mines, and said its operations in northern Chile were normal.
Chile's Collahuasi copper mine and port had no immediate problems following the quake, chief executive Jorge Gomez told Reuters, and mining company BHP Billiton said it had not received reports of damage.
"An earthquake of this size has the potential to generate a destructive tsunami that can strike coastlines near the epicenter within minutes and more distant coastlines within hours," the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center said.
"An evaluation of the Pacific wide tsunami threat is underway and there is a possibility that Hawaii could be elevated to a watch or warning status," it added.
Authorities in Peru started evacuating communities in the southern coastal region of Ica. Electricity was partially lost in the Peruvian cities of Tacna, Moquegua and Arequipa but there were no reports of deaths or serious damage.
(Additional reporting by Alexandra Ulmer in Santiago, Sandra Maler in Washington and Mitra Taj in Lima; Writing by Hugh Bronstein; Editing by Lisa Shumaker and Kieran Murray)