Chilean Interior Minister Jorge Correa warned that the casualty toll could still rise sharply.
The quake struck at 6:44 p.m. (2244 GMT) with the underground epicentre 111 kilometres below Chile's border with Bolivia, 115 kilometres north of the city of Iquique in the Andes Mountains, according to radio reports in Santiago. Across the region, panicked residents fled into the streets.
Police and civil defence authorities were streaming into the earthquake zone to reach remote communities and continue damage assessment.
The tremors were reported strongest in Tarapaca province and the neighbouring provinces of Antofagasta and Atacama. At least 20 houses were reported collapsed, and telephone connections and electric power lines were cut across much of the affected region.
Five people died on a highway between the cities of Iquique and Alto Hospicio when a boulder was knocked from a cliffside by the quake and crushed the car in which they were driving, according to media reports.
An elderly man died in the city of Sibaya in Iquique province when his house collapsed. Two more people died in Pozo Almonte township. dpa rr de ff
- Deutsche Presse Agentur
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