Chile started to clean up after the strongest earthquake in four years left six people dead, cut power supplies and triggered a tsunami that destroyed fishing boats.
More than 900,000 people in low-lying areas returned to their homes after evacuating last night as authorities canceled the last of the tsunami alerts. The quake measured 8.2 on the Richter scale, making it one of the nine biggest in Chile over the past 120 years, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.
The earthquake struck at 8:47 p.m. local time 95 kilometers (59 miles) off the coast of Iquique, USGS said, triggering a tsunami of as much as 2.1 meters that damaged the dock in the city. Copper mines that litter the northern desert weren’t damaged. The quake probably isn’t the “big one” people feared in northern Chile, said Esteban Sagredo, a geographer at the Catholic University in Santiago.
“This is not the major earthquake we were expecting,” Sagredo said by phone. “The area that hasn’t moved is way bigger than the one that released energy yesterday.”
There is a stretch of 550 kilometers that hasn’t seen a significant earthquake for more than 100 years. Of that area, only 200 kilometers moved yesterday, Sagredo said.
“I want to give reassurance to the affected zone,” Finance Minister Alberto Arenas told reporters today. “We have the resources to face situations like this. We’ll use all the mechanisms that we have to help those affected.”
Government ministries are working on estimates of how much they will need to repair damage caused by the quake, Arenas said.
Chile is one of the most earthquake-prone countries in the world, with a fault line running the length of its 4,270 kilometer coast. A February 2010 quake, which measured 8.8 on the Richter scale, and ensuing tsunamis killed about 500 people and caused $30 billion in damage and losses.
“In the near future, that could be tomorrow or in 50 years, there will be greater earthquakes” in the north of Chile, Mark Simons, a geophysicist at the California Institute of Technology, told CNN. The big quake “could be an 8.8 or an 8.9 on the Richter scale.”
Copper prices pared gains after mining companies said their sites suffered no damage. Chile is the biggest producer of the metal.
The copper contract for delivery in three months on the London Metal Exchange rose 0.2 percent to $6,675 a metric ton, having earlier advanced 1 percent to a three-week high.
‘Hours of Emergency’
“The country has been able to withstand these first few hours of emergency,” Bachelet, who plans to travel to the region today after declaring Arica-Parinacota and Tarapaca catastrophe areas, said on state television. “We’ve taken the necessary measures.”
Of the six victims, three died from heart attacks, two were hit by falling debris and one died in an accident during the evacuation, the emergency agency Onemi said in a statement.
Bachelet, who was criticized for not using the military quickly enough after a devastating earthquake near the end of her first term in office in February 2010, also said she would send the heads of various branches of the armed forces to the region to lead efforts to maintain order.
The government also sent extra police to Iquique to help maintain order, Interior Minister Rodrigo Penailillo said in televised remarks today.
About 300 female convicts escaped from a prison in the city after a wall collapsed, of which more than 131 have handed themselves in to the authorities, La Tecera reported, citing the police.
Landslides blocked some roads and a church spire in the town of Huara collapsed after the tremor, the local mayor Carlos Silva told TVN. Ramon Galleguillos, mayor of Alto Hospicio, said that houses were damaged and roads blocked. The victims were killed by heart attacks or falling debris, Penailillo said last night.
“You see these kind of images in movies,” Galleguillos told told TVN. “Tonight we have lived it.”
Many people fled to higher ground in their cars, sparking traffic jams, though the situation later calmed down, said Justin Sturrock, a resident in the city of Antofagasta.
Electricity has been restored everywhere except for Iquique, power distributor Cia. General de Electricidad SA said in e-mailed statements.
The region has been shaken by more than 100 aftershocks since the earthquake, including a 6.0-magnitude temblor at 1:46 a.m. local time, Onemi reported.
Teck Resources Ltd.’s Quebrada Blanca mine in northern Chile is operating normally, spokeswoman Claudia Onetto said in an e-mail. The site is next to Anglo American Plc and Glencore Xstrata Plc’s Collahuasi mine near the border with Bolivia.
Collahuasi is returning to normal after the quake, which didn’t damage installations or cause injuries, according to an e-mailed statement from the operating company.
Antofagasta Plc’s copper mines are far enough away from the epicenter not to be affected, the London-based company said.
The ports for Antofagasta’s Pelambres, Esperanza and Michilla mines are operating normally today after being evacuated when the tsunami warning was given, the company said in an e-mailed response to questions. There were no delays to shipments and no reports of damage, Antofagasta said.
Codelco, the world’s largest copper producer, also said its mines in the Antofagasta region were unaffected. The company evacuated workers from its Ventanas refinery division and from Mejillones, where Codelco is building a molybdenum plant. Three ships waiting to load at the Angamos port in Mejillones were put farther out to sea, the company said.
BHP Billiton Ltd. evacuated its Coloso port in the city of Antofagasta, which serves Escondida, the world’s biggest copper mine, Melbourne-based producer said in an emailed statement.
Cementos Bio Bio SA surged 8.8 percent to 559 pesos in Santiago. Chile’s largest cement producer rallied on the prospect of increased construction spending, Cesar Perez, head of research at BTG Pactual in Santiago, said by telephone.