Chile has declared three northern regions hit by an 8.2 magnitude earthquake to be disaster areas. The quake struck at 20:46 local time (23:46 GMT) about 52 miles (86km) north-west of the mining area of Iquique, the US Geological Survey said. Waves of over 6ft (2m) have hit some areas and there have been power cuts, fires and landslides.
The government said the declaration of a disaster in the Arica, Parinacota and Tarapaca regions were aimed at “avoiding instances of looting and disorder”.
President Michelle Bachelet is due to visit the affected areas later. She said the country had “faced the emergency well” and called on those in affected regions “to keep calm and follow instructions from the authorities”.
Chilean TV broadcast pictures of traffic jams as people tried to leave the affected areas.
At least five people are known to have died and tens of thousands of people have been evacuated. Officials said the dead included people who were crushed by collapsing walls or died of heart attacks.
Chile is one of the most seismically active countries in the world.
Central and southern areas of the country were hit by a powerful earthquake of an 8.8 magnitude followed by a tsunami that devastated scores of towns in February 2010.
In 1960 an area of Chile south of Concepcion was hit by a 9.5 magnitude quake which caused about 1,655 deaths and a tsunami in Hawaii and Japan.