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Massive Chile tsunami threatens entire Pacific basin

chile tsunamiNorthern Chile was shaken by a magnitude 8.2 earthquake, triggering a tsunami warning along most of the Pacific Coast of South America. There were no immediate reports of major damage or deaths.

The quake struck at 9 p.m. local time 95 kilometers from the city of Iquique at a depth of 20 km, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. The first tsunami waves reached as high as 2.1 meters in the town of Pisagua, emergency services said. Further waves were expected to hit the coast, it said.

“Chile is actually quite well prepared for tsunamis,” Bruce Tresgrave, a geophysicist with the USGS, said on Bloomberg TV. “There is always the possibility of communications failure.”

Television showed people evacuating from the coastal strip in northern cities, causing traffic jams on the routes to higher ground. While the quake caused some power cuts, minor landslides and triggered at least one fire in Iquique, water and electricity supplies continued as normal in most areas, Television Nacional reported.

The local power distributor in Arica, Emelari, a unit of Cia General de Electricidad SA, and its counterpart in Iquique, Eliqsa, both reported power outages in e-mailed statements.

E.CL SA’s U2 power plant in the port of Mejillones is not operating following the tremor, a company official briefed on the matter said in an e-mailed response to questions. The plant generates 150 megawatts of power. The other units of E.CL, northern Chile’s largest power generator, are operating normally, said the official who can’t be named because of internal policy. E.CL is a unit of France’s GDF Suez.

Anglo American Plc (AAL), BHP Billiton Ltd. and Teck Resources Ltd. operate copper mines in northern Chile. Spokesmen for the three companies were unavailable for comment.

Codelco, the world’s largest copper producer, said its mines located in the Antofagasta region further south were unaffected by the earthquake, a company spokesman briefed on the matter said.

Copper traded in New York leaped as much as 6 cents a pound to $3.07 following the quake, before dropping back to $3.04 as of 9:53 p.m.

Tresgrave said the area where the earthquake hit “is not at all a surprise. There had been some earthquakes in the magnitude 6 range over the past two or three weeks,” he said.

A tsunami watch was also in place for Colombia, Panama, Costa Rica, Nicaragua and El Salvador.

An earthquake off the coast of southern Chile in February 2010 killed about 500 people and caused $30 billion in damage and losses.-Bloomberg