SANTIAGO, Chile -- Chilean President Michelle Bachelet toured northern Chile on Wednesday, inspecting the damage from a magnitude 8.2 earthquake the night before that left six people dead and forced the evacuation of about 900,000 others but which apparently caused less damage than feared.
At first glance Wednesday morning, damage to northern coastal cities near the epicenter seemed to be minor, according to local news reports and government officials. There were scattered fires caused by gas leaks and some structural damage to homes and businesses but apparently little devastation in the vicinity of Pisagua, near the offshore epicenter of the quake.
Three highways in the north were shut down because of large fissures in the roadways.
Fishermen reported 40 boats were destroyed by high waves in the northern coastal city of Iquique, and between 70 and 80 were damaged in Tarapaca. However, authorities lifted a tsunami alert that had been declared late Tuesday for the country’s 3,500 miles of coastline.
More than 60 aftershocks were reported late Tuesday and in the morning hours in the affected area, which centered in Iquique and further north in Arica. The government declared northern Chile to be in a “state of catastrophe.”
Evacuees spent Tuesday night in about 18 shelters, including the Lions soccer stadium in Iquique.
Interviewed Wednesday morning, Arica Mayor Salvador Urrutia told a television reporter that damage was "not so terrible as we feared."
"The city is basically fine with no visible damage. We don't see any major impacts from tsunami or the earthquake. None of our bridges collapsed and principal thoroughfares are working. Schools don't seem to have suffered significant damage."
According to Interior Minister Rodrigo Peñailillo, who spoke at the national emergency office in Santiago, the capital, at least three of the dead reportedly were victims of heart attacks. Another was a fireman.
A more detailed inventory of damage was expected Wednesday morning from the Chilean emergency office, known by its Spanish initials ONEMI.
Accompanied by several Cabinet ministers, Bachelet departed Santiago at 8 a.m. local time in an air force plane and headed for Iquique to lead emergency operations.
Chilean armed forces arrived in Iquique to maintain order. Thirty-nine of 300 prisoners who escaped from a local jail after the quake were reported still at large Wednesday morning
In the early hours, electric power had been restored to 50% of Arica and 30% of Iquique, officials said.
Special correspondents Gutierrez and Kraul reported from Santiago, Chile, and Cartagena Colombia respectively.