Chile's President Michelle Bachelet declares state of emergency after a massive 8.2 magnitude earthquake hits the country
SANTIAGO - Chilean President Michelle Bachelet has declared a state of emergency on Wednesday in two northernmost regions after a major earthquake struck the country late Tuesday and killed six people.
The earthquake, measuring 8.2 on the Richter scale, struck at 20:46 local time off the northern coast of Chile. Chilean authorities issued a tsunami alert on Wednesday morning but cancelled it later the same day.
Waves measuring up to 2.5 meters were recorded overnight as the ocean swept up to 200 meters inland in Iquique, the nearest major city to the epicenter.
Almost a million people were returning to their homes Wednesday morning after the government called for the entire Chile’s Pacific coastline to be evacuated. Ports and oil refineries were closed together with the Chilean Congress, located in the port city of Valparaiso.
Five men and one woman are reported to have died in the earthquake, so far. Most of them suffered a heart attack minutes after the quake struck.
President Bachelet and ministers travelled to Iquique Wednesday morning to coordinate a response to the earthquake, which damaged buildings, started fires, and cut roads across northern Chile.
Troops are also on the ground to prevent looting and disorder, which occurred in the last major earthquake that hit Chile in February 2010.
Electricity has been restored in most locations; water supplies are returning after being cut overnight; and airports in Arica, Antofagasta and Iquique are reopening after flights were suspended late Tuesday.
But classes for thousands of schoolchildren were suspended as a precaution, and many of those evacuated to higher ground were carrying backpacks of suppliers prepared in the previous weeks.
Several aftershocks have been recorded in the hours since the earthquake first struck. Chile’s national seismology center, based at the University of Chile in Santiago, warned that the region could be struck by another quake measuring up to 8.1 on the Richter scale.
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