Chile on tsunami alert after deadly earthquake

Thousands of people flee coasts as quake with magnitude of 8.2 on Richter scale hits the north of the country.

Thousands of people flee coasts as quake with magnitude of 8.2 on Richter scale hits the north of the country.

SANTIAGO - Two people have died, three have been seriously injured and several hundred thousands have fled their homes after a major earthquake struck northern Chile.  

The Chilean government ordered the evacuation of all coastal areas amid fears of a tsunami minutes after the earthquake struck at 8.46 p.m. (23.46GMT) local time around 90km off the coast of Iquique, one of northern Chile´s largest cities.  

Measuring 8.2 on the Richter scale, the quake cut some roads and caused a number of fires and landslides in northern Chile.

Regional official Mitchel Cartes said two men died after suffering heart attacks in the aftermath of the tremor.  

- Prison breakout

Long traffic jams built up as thousands of people sought to flee the coming tsunami by moving to higher ground in their vehicles.  

The first large waves, measuring more than two meters high, struck cities in northern Chile and southern Peru from about 11 p.m. (0200GMT), but the authorities expected larger waves to follow.  

Speaking on national television, Interior Minister Rodrigo Penailillo called on people to stay in safety areas until the alert was lifted, adding this could take up to six hours.  

The minister confirmed that 300 prisoners escaped from jail in Iquique following the earthquake, and said that the government was sending special forces police to the city to aid with their recapture.

People in northern Chile have been expecting a major earthquake to hit the region after feeling hundreds of smaller tremors over the past few weeks and many had stocked up with water, food and other supplies in preparation.

About 500 people died in southern and central Chile four years ago when the country was hit by one of the strongest earthquakes on record.

Many drowned after the authorities failed to raise the tsunami alert.

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