By LUIS ANDRES HENAO, AP
SANTIAGO, Chile — Authorities kept hundreds of thousands of people out of their beds early Wednesday after a magnitude-8.2 earthquake struck off Chile’s northern coast. Five people were crushed to death or suffered fatal heart attacks, a remarkably low toll for such a powerful shift in the Earth’s crust.
The extent of damage from Tuesday night’s quake couldn’t be fully assessed before daybreak, President Michelle Bachelet said, but she wasn’t taking any chances. She declared a state of emergency in the region and sent a military plane with 100 anti-riot police to join 300 soldiers deployed to prevent looting and round up escaped prisoners.
The shaking loosed landslides that blocked roads, knocked out power for thousands, damaged an airport and provoked fires that destroyed several businesses. About 300 inmates escaped from a women’s prison in the city of Iquique. In Arica, another city close to the quake’s offshore epicenter, hospitals treated minor injuries, and some homes made of adobe were destroyed, authorities said. Chilean Interior Minister Rodrigo Penailillo announced the five deaths.
Bachelet’s government extended its tsunami warnings for northernmost Chile long after they were lifted elsewhere. Its mandatory evacuation orders remained in effect until nearly dawn for coastal areas north of Antofogasta, a decision backed by the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center in Hawaii.
“We regard the coast line of Chile as still dangerous, so we’re maintaining the warning,” geophysicist Gerard Fryer told The Associated Press.
Bachelet, who just returned to the presidency three weeks ago, spoke well after midnight, five hours after the quake struck.
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.