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Published: Thursday April 3, 2014 MYT 7:00:02 AM
Updated: Thursday April 3, 2014 MYT 7:00:57 AM

Nearly 300 inmates used Chile quake to escape, many later surrendered

SANTIAGO (Reuters) - Nearly 300 female prisoners took advantage of a massive earthquake to escape from a jail in northern Chile, although many have since returned, authorities said on Wednesday.

Local police said the prisoners fled after an offshore 8.2-magnitude earthquake that shook northern Chile on Tuesday, killing six people and triggering a tsunami with 2-meter (7-foot) waves.

The jail, situated in the port town of Iquique, west of the Atacama Desert, was evacuated as it was at risk of being inundated by sea water. Police said 293 of the 320 inmates had escaped.

The town was in darkness at the time, with the electricity supply cut off by the quake. Gabriel Silber, a lawmaker in Chile's lower house of Congress said the women escaped when a prison wall collapsed.

"There were structural weaknesses in the building," said Silber. "It was the weak point in what should have been an impeccable evacuation process. Fortunately, they are low security inmates."

The government sent the armed forces in as a "preventative measure," but police said 131 of the prisoners had voluntarily returned by Wednesday afternoon.

Local media said many had used the opportunity to visit their families before giving themselves up.

(Reporting by Rosalba O'Brien, editing by G Crosse)

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