Disaster declared after Chile quake

SANTIAGO - Chile has declared two northern regions hit by a magnitude 8.2 earthquake to be disaster areas.

At least six people are known to have died and tens of thousands of people have been evacuated.

The quake struck at 20:46 local time (23:46 GMT) about 86km (52 miles) north-west of the mining area of Iquique, the US Geological Survey said.

Police are searching for hundreds of inmates who escaped from a women's prison in Iquique.

The interior minister told Chilean TV that some 300 inmates had escaped but officials later said that 26 had been recaptured.

Waves of up to 2.1m (about 6ft) have hit some areas and there have been power cuts, fires and landslides.

Dozens of aftershocks have been reported throughout the night, including a 6.2 tremor.

The government said the declaration of a disaster in the regions of Tarapaca, Arica and Parinacota was aimed at "avoiding instances of looting and disorder".

President Michelle Bachelet said the country had "faced the emergency well" and called on those in affected regions "to keep calm and follow instructions from the authorities".

She is due to visit the affected areas later on Wednesday.

Chilean TV broadcast pictures of traffic jams as people tried to head for safer areas.

Officials said the dead included people who were crushed by collapsing walls or died of heart attacks.

The interior minister also told Chilean TV that some 300 women inmates had escaped from a prison in Iquique.

Officials later said that 26 of them had been recaptured.

Authorities say they have re-established electricity supply in 50% of the affected areas.

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