US & World

Chile earthquake: 6 dead and light damage; no U.S. tsunami threat

Fishing boats washed ashore by a small tsunami, sit in Caleta Riquelme, adjacent to the port, in the northern town of Iquique, Chile, after magnitude 8.2 earthqauke struck the northen coast of Chile, Wednesday, April 2, 2014. Authorities lifted tsunami warnings for Chile’s long coastline early Wednesday. Six people were crushed to death or suffered fatal heart attacks, a remarkably low toll for such a powerful shift in the Earth’s crust.
Fishing boats washed ashore by a small tsunami, sit in Caleta Riquelme, adjacent to the port, in the northern town of Iquique, Chile, after magnitude 8.2 earthqauke struck the northen coast of Chile, Wednesday, April 2, 2014. Authorities lifted tsunami warnings for Chile’s long coastline early Wednesday. Six people were crushed to death or suffered fatal heart attacks, a remarkably low toll for such a powerful shift in the Earth’s crust.
Cristian Vivero Boornes/AP

U.S. officials say they've found no threat of a tsunami along the coasts of Alaska, California, Oregon or Washington after a major earthquake near Chile, with danger to Hawaii limited to potentially strong currents at beaches.

RELATED: Magnitude 8.2 earthquake hits Pacific near Iquique, Chile

Bill Knight, a scientist at the National Tsunami Warning Center, says early data show that by the time waves generated by Tuesday night's magnitude-8.2 quake reach the West Coast, they'll be too small to pose any threat.

Director Chip McCreery of the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center says officials don't expect a major tsunami threat to Hawaii. But the center issued an advisory saying swimmers, boaters and others at beaches might see strong currents and sea level changes.

Chilean authorities ordered an evacuation of coastal areas there in case of a tsunami.

Meanwhile, authorities in northern Chile discovered surprisingly light damage and just six reported deaths Wednesday from a magnitude-8.2 quake — a remarkably low toll for such a powerful shift in the Earth's crust.

President Michelle Bachelet arrived in Iquique before noon to review damage after declaring a state of emergency. Hours earlier, she sent a military plane with 100 anti-riot police to join 300 soldiers deployed to prevent looting and round up escaped prisoners.

Thousands of people evacuated from low-lying areas were returning home after a spending a long night outside due to 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.

Seawater flooded city streets and washed away some fishing boats in Iquique, but by early Wednesday no major tsunami damage 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. Some homes made of adobe were destroyed in Arica, another city close to the quake's offshore epicenter.

Mining in Chile, which is the world's top copper producing nation, was not affected, although world prices for the red metal jumped as the quake raised supply concerns because most of the Chilean mining industry is in the northern regions.

About 300 inmates escaped from a women's prison in the city of Iquique, forcing the closure of the border with Peru. Officials said some two dozen had been captured early Wednesday.

Bachelet, who just returned to the presidency 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 2006-10 term, her emergency preparedness office prematurely waved off a tsunami danger. Most of the 500 dead from that magnitude-8.8 tremor 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.

"The country has done a good job of confronting the emergency. I call on everyone to stay calm and follow the authorities' instructions," Bachelet tweeted after Tuesday night's temblor.

She put her interior minister in direct charge of coordinating the emergency response, and announced that schools would be suspended in evacuated areas while authorities assessed the damage.

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Luis Andres Henao reported from Santiago. Also contributing to this report were Eva Vergara in Santiago, Michael Warren in Buenos Aires, Argentina and Frank Bajak in Lima, Peru.

This story has been updated.