While a tsunami warning was lifted, landslides cut off roads and authorities in Santiago issued an evacuation order for the whole coastline even as 300 female inmates escaped from prison in Iquique.
Fears faded of a destructive tsunami on the western coast of South America after a magnitude 8.2 earthquake struck about 100 kilometres off northern Chile on Wednesday.
The Chilean navy said a 2 metre wave had reached the northern coast about 45 minutes after the quake. The tsunami alert was later lifted across much of the country by 0500 GMT, Chilean daily La Tercera reported.
Landslides cut roads and there were reports of infrastructure damage, after authorities in Santiago issued an evacuation order for the whole coastline.
President Michele Bachelet cleared her day’s schedule to travel to affected areas, and schools were to be closed, La Tercera reported.
Interior Minister Rodrigo Penailillo said a total of five people had died, either due to heart attacks or landslides.
More than 300 inmates escaped from a women’s prison in Chile’s northern city of Iquique, the minister said. He declined to confirm accounts of looting circulating on social media, but said that 100 troops had been dispatched to the area to ensure security.
The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center issued a warning for Colombia, Chile, Ecuador, Panama and Peru shortly after the quake was recorded. A tsunami watch, a lower alert level, was issued for Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and Mexico
All warnings and watches were later lifted except for Chile and Peru.Chilean authorities said they would remain on alert until later Wednesday morning.
In Peru, the wave did not exceed 45 centimetres and caused no damage, officials were quoted by news reports as saying.
The main earthquake struck at 23:46 GMT at a depth of 20 kilometres, according to the US Geological Survey, which identified the epicentre 95 kilometres north—west of the Chilean port city of Iqique. Seven aftershocks, one of magnitude 6.2, hit the area within the following hour.
Earlier waves generated the earthquake struck some areas in the north of the country. According to the University of Chile Seismological Service, the major tremor hit off the Chilean coast at 8.46 p.m. local time (11.46 p.m. GMT) and the epicentre, with a depth of 44 km, was located 99 km northwest of the mining port of Iquique, near the border with Peru.
Thousands have lost power, and hundreds of thousands of Chileans are spending the night away from their beds due to the evacuation order, which remains in effect for northern Chile. Local radio reported that power went out and communications were affected in some parts of northern Chile while some roads and highways in northern Chile were blocked by landslides, causing traffic jams.
So far, at least 10 strong aftershocks, including a 6.2-magnitude tremor, have occurred.