Chilean President Michelle Bachelet on Thursday toured a northern coastal region hardest hit by a powerful 8.3 magnitude earthquake that left at least 11 dead and five missing.
The earthquake that struck Wednesday night at about 7:54 p.m. local time caused minor damage in many parts of Chile, including the capital, Santiago, where buildings swayed and residents took refuge briefly in the streets. The government said 611 families in coastal zones were left homeless from the quake and a resulting tsunami.
But Chileans breathed a sigh of relief that the damage was nothing like that suffered in February 2010, when an 8.8 magnitude quake and subsequent tsunami killed 525 people, destroyed 200,000 homes and caused millions of dollars in damage.
"People responded to the alerts issued by the authorities, and that allowed us to save lives," Bachelet said Thursday morning before departing for the affected areas. She described the quake as the sixth most powerful to strike Chile.
TV footage showed Bachelet visiting damaged houses in the coastal city of Coquimbo, where floors had been covered with mud from the tsunami. She promised food and shelter would be made available to all those affected.
Chile is highly seismically active, and its earthquake preparedness is considered among the most advanced in the world.
The quake's epicenter was reported to be off the Pacific coast about 140 miles northwest of Santiago. The quake caused foot-high tsunami waves to strike as far away as the Southern California coast Thursday morning, but no damage was reported.
The effects of the quake were especially felt in the northern coastal regions. A total of 660,000 people were evacuated after a tsunami alert was issued.
Coquimbo reported that high waves damaged 90% of its port area and that waves reached a tourist zone known as English Village. The deaths were caused by falling walls, heart attacks and, in one case, a motorcycle crash, authorities said.
The nearby town of Illapel reported many seaside buildings were damaged by tremors and flooding. Mayor Denis Cortes said about one-third of the city's 30,000 residents were affected in one way or another by the quake.
Chile sits on the rim of the so-called ring of fire, a seismically active zone encompassing much of the Pacific basin coastlines. The most powerful earthquake recorded took place in Chile in 1960 and killed about 5,000 people.
Poblete is a special correspondent. Special correspondent Chris Kraul in Bogota, Colombia, contributed to this report.