NEW: 7.6-magnitude aftershock strikes late Wednesday
Quake triggered small landslides, cut power and generated a tsunami
President: "The country has faced these first emergency hours very well"
About 300 prisoners escaped in the northern port city of Iquique, but 131 surrendered
Strict building codes and the preparedness of millions of Chileans who live along an arc of volcanoes and fault lines likely kept the death toll – only six by Wednesday afternoon – low after an 8.2-magnitude earthquake rumbled offshore and prompted a tsunami, observers said.
Officials said four of those whose deaths were blamed on the quake late Tuesday that triggered landslides, power outages, and a tsunami suffered heart attacks, while two others were crushed.
“They’re a seismically active region of the world and they are very good at implementing their building codes similar to California,” John Bellini, a Denver-based geophysicist at the U.S. Geological Survey told CNN on Wednesday.
He added, “Because of that, you would see less damage than in other places that have poorer building codes …. that’s probably one of the reasons there haven’t been as many casualties as there could have been from a magnitude earthquake of this size.”
Nearly 928,000 people were evacuated, said Ricardo Toro, director of Chile’s office of national emergency.
More than 2,500 homes sustained serious structural damage in the region around the northern port city of Iquique, the mayor of Alto Hospicio, Ramon Galleguillos, told reporters. Most of the homes were built with poor workmanship through government subsidies, Galleguillos said. Alto Hospicio is about a mile from Iquique, 60 miles southeast from the epicenter of the quake.
A 7.6-magnitude aftershock struck the region late Wednesday. There was no immediate word on damage or injuries.
Chilean President Michelle Bachelet, who toured the region Wednesday, praised local authorities for responding in an “exemplary manner” to a powerful earthquake and the tsunami that followed.
“This is a great example to all of us that when we work together in an adequate manner and we when we follow the plans that have been established in the region, we work well,” Bachelet said.
Chile is in one of the most earthquake-prone regions in the world.
The country sits on an arc of volcanoes and fault lines circling the Pacific Ocean known as the “Ring of Fire,” according to Mark Simons, a geophysicist at Caltech in Pasadena, California. This area sees frequent earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. Since 1973, Chile has had more than a dozen quakes of magnitude-7.0 and above.