A mighty 8.2-magnitude earthquake struck off the coast of northern Chile late Tuesday, triggering small landslides, sapping power, and generating a tsunami.

 5 deaths have been reported and about 300 prisoners escaped from northern port city of Iquique in the immediate aftermath, said Interior Minister Rodrigo Penailillo.

The quake struck about 8:46 p.m. local time, some 60 miles northwest of Iquique. It had a depth of 12.5 miles, the U.S. Geological Survey said.

Chile's National Emergency Office tweeted Tuesday night that it was asking everyone to evacuate the South American nation's coast.

Residents in Antofagasta, another port city, calmly walked through the streets to higher ground as traffic piled up in some places.

"Many people are fearful after experiencing the powerful earthquake in 2010, so they immediately fled for higher ground when they heard the tsunami warning," said Fabrizio Guzman, World Vision emergency communications manager in Chile.

"There have been multiple aftershocks and communications have been cut off in many of the affected areas. So people are waiting in the dark hills not knowing what is to come, and hoping they will be able to return to their homes safely."

At one point, the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center issued several tsunami warnings. All of them, except for Chile and Peru, were later canceled. All tsunami watches — which once extended as far north as Mexico's Pacific coast — were called off as well.

Tsunami waves of more than 6 feet generated by the earthquake washed ashore on the coast of Pisagua, according to Victor Sardino, with the center.

Iquique, with a population of more than 200,000, saw waves 7 feet high.

Danger averted

An earthquake of the scale that struck Tuesday night is capable of wreaking tremendous havoc.

So, if the initial reports stand, Chile may have dodged a major catastrophe with relatively minor damage.

Landslides damaged roads in some regions. Power and phone outages were reported in others.

Chile is on the so-called "Ring of Fire," an arc of volcanoes and fault lines circling the Pacific Basic that is prone to frequent earthquakes and volcanic eruptions.

On March 16, a 6.7-magnitude earthquake struck 37 miles west-northwest of Iquique. A 6.1-magnitude hit the same area exactly one week later.

About 500 people were killed when a 8.8-magnitude earthquake struck Chile on February 27, 2010. That quake triggered a tsunami that toppled buildings, particularly in the Maule region along the coast.

According to researchers, the earthquake was violent enough to move the Chilean city of Concepcion at least 10 feet to the west and Santiago about 11 inches to the west-southwest.

Tags: