(Adds housing damage, market reaction, BreakingViews link)
By Anthony Esposito and Rosalba O'Brien
SANTIAGO, April 2 Chilean authorities on
Wednesday were assessing the damage from a massive earthquake
that struck off the northern coast, causing a small tsunami, but
the impact appeared to be mostly limited.
The 8.2 magnitude quake that shook northern Chile on Tuesday
killed six people and triggered a tsunami with 2-meter (7-foot)
As the ocean waves receded, over 900,000 people who had
evacuated the country's low-lying coastal areas returned to
their homes, some to find their houses and livelihoods in ruins.
More than 2,600 homes were damaged and fishing boats along
the northern coast were smashed up. However, most infrastructure
held up and mines in the world's No. 1 copper producer were
generally functioning normally.
The arid, mineral-rich north is sparsely populated, with
most of the population concentrated in the port towns of Iquique
and Arica, near the Peruvian border.
In Peru, the earthquake led to temporary power outages and
evacuations in some southern towns, but did not cause serious
damage or injuries.
Chilean President Michelle Bachelet visited Iquique on
Wednesday and praised people's orderly response to the
"We are here to recognize the calm behavior of the people of
Iquique who showed great civic responsibility, as did those of
Arica. I think you have given us all a tremendous example," she
The government would put great effort into restoring
services, she added.
Finance Minister Alberto Arenas said the government would
place "no limit on the use of resources to address this
Bachelet, who was sworn in as president less than a month
ago, is likely conscious of the stinging criticism she faced
near the end of her first term in office in 2010, when the
government was seen to have responded inadequately to a much
bigger 8.8 quake and tsunami that killed over 500 people.
It was too early to estimate financial losses, but they were
expected to be much lower than the $30 billion from the 2010
quake, which affected the more densely populated central region,
said earthquake expert Alexander Allmann at reinsurer Munich Re.
"The quake has caused severe damage to some buildings in the
affected region, but in general the building standards in Chile
are comparatively high, allowing buildings and infrastructure to
withstand such quakes reasonably well," said Allmann.
"The small tsunami triggered by the quake is not expected to
have caused significant damage."
Small fishing vessels in the ports appeared to be among the
"We struggled just to be able to get a bigger boat... and
now look at it," a woman from Iquique's fishing community, in
tears, said in a video posted on Reuters.com.
Several smaller aftershocks, some as big as 5.2 magnitude,
continued into Wednesday and some ports in the area remained
Landslides also blocked eight roads and Iquique's hospital
suffered some damage but otherwise most infrastructure was in
good shape, emergency office Onemi said.
Nearly 300 prisoners took advantage of the emergency on
Tuesday night to escape from a female penitentiary in Iquique.
About 130 had since voluntarily returned, Onemi said.
The global price for copper initially jumped on news
of the quake, but market reaction was otherwise muted, with
Chile's IPSA stock market closing up 0.4 percent on
Wednesday. Shares in local cement makers Melon and
Cementos Bio-Bio rose on expectations of higher demand.
THE BIG ONE
Chileans live in one of the most earthquake-prone areas of
the world. In 1960, southern Chile was hit by a 9.5 quake, the
largest in modern history.
Residents in the area of the latest quake have been
expecting "the big one" for many years. The Nazca and South
American tectonic plates rub up against each other just off the
coast of Iquique, where a "seismic gap" has been building up.
An unusually large number of tremors in the area in recent
weeks had led authorities to reinforce emergency procedures,
while residents bought rations and prepared for an eventual
However, the mega-quake they had been fearing may still be
yet to happen, said Paul Earle, a seismologist at the U.S.
Geological Survey National Earthquake Information Center.
"This earthquake was not large enough to release the stress
on the whole area where they believe the seismic gap is," he
"It's going to take some time to evaluate the effect of this
earthquake on that region. But people should stay prepared."
(Additional reporting by Alexandra Ulmer, Antonio de la Jara
and Fabian Cambero in Santiago, Jonathan Gould in Frankfurt and
Mitra Taj in Lima; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe, Chizu Nomiyama and