Chile lifted an evacuation order for coastal areas after the strongest earthquake in four years left six people dead and prompted President Michelle Bachelet to order the military to help maintain order.
More than 900,000 people in low-lying areas returned to their homes today as authorities canceled the last of tsunami alerts along the length of the country. The death toll from the magnitude-8.2 earthquake last night rose to six, Interior Minister Rodrigo Penailillo said in televised remarks.
The quake struck at 8:47 p.m. local time 95 kilometers (59 miles) off the coast of the city of Iquique, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. Television Nacional said the tremor triggered waves that damaged fishing boats and the dock in the northern city. Copper prices pared gains after mining companies said their sites suffered no damage. Chile is the biggest copper-producing nation.
“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.”
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 2010 quake killed about 500 people and caused $30 billion in damage and losses.
Last night’s quake caused landslides and triggered at least one fire in Iquique. Water and power supplies continued as normal in many areas, TVN reported. Electricity has now been restored everywhere except for Iquique, power distributor Cia. General de Electricidad SA said in e-mailed statements.
A church tower in the town of Huara collapsed after the tremor, the local mayor Carlos Silva told TVN. Ramon Galleguillos, mayor of Alto Hospicio, said last night that houses were damaged and roads blocked. The victims were killed 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.”
While the country continued to feel aftershocks, with a 6.0-magnitude temblor at 1:46 a.m. local time, tsunami warnings that were issued for much of the Pacific Ocean have now been canceled, according to the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center.
The government sent extra police to Iquique to help maintain order, Penailillo said. More than 300 convicts had escaped a prison in the city, he said.
There was an attempt at looting in the port of Iquique, regional governor Gonzalo Prieto told Radio Cooperativa. Air- force troops were bolstering police who were guarding supermarkets and gas stations in the region, he said.
“At the beginning it was chaotic as people started evacuating in cars, which is not allowed,” said Justin Sturrock, a resident in the northern city of Antofagasta. “The highway is blocked and there are traffic jams everywhere.”
The copper contract for delivery in three months on the London Metal Exchange rose 0.5 percent to $6,694 a metric ton as of 10:59 a.m. London time, having earlier advanced 1 percent to a three-week high.
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.
“We evacuated Collahuasi last night for obvious safety reasons,” James Wyatt-Tilby, a spokesman for London-based Anglo, said in an e-mail. “We will be inspecting the site for any damage today. Other operations in Chile are operating.”
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.
“We continue to assess the situation as further information comes to hand,” BHP, the world’s largest miner, said in its statement.
Empresa Nacional del Petroleo’s Bio Bio refinery wasn’t affected by the evacuation, a company official said.
Iquique has experienced tremors over the past few weeks and a larger earthquake was not a surprise, Bruce Tresgrave, a geophysicist with the USGS, said on Bloomberg Television.
“Chile is actually quite well prepared for tsunamis,” he said. “There is always the possibility of communications failure.”
–With assistance from Sebastian Boyd, James Attwood and Javiera Quiroga in Santiago and Firat Kayakiran in London.