News24

No deaths, 14 injured in Chile quake

2012-03-26 19:12

Santiago - A 7.1 magnitude earthquake struck central Chile, prompting an short-lived evacuation order for coastal areas and causing scenes of panic in a region devastated by a massive quake two years ago.

There were no immediate reports of deaths or significant damage, officials in Chile said on Monday, a day after the tremor struck.

The Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre in Hawaii said there was no risk of an ocean tidal wave like one that devastated the coast of central Chile in 2010.

Officials said that some 25 000 people had been evacuated by the time the all-clear was given a few hours later. Fourteen people were reported injured in the quake.

Government spokesperson Andres Chadwick said the Office of National Emergencies had issued the evacuation order as a precaution due to "observation of a certain intake of the sea".

Chadwick said the decision was taken to protect the population even though the visual sighting of the sea conditions had not been confirmed by technical experts from the navy's Hydrographic and Oceanographic Service.

In its first quake damage report, the emergency office said one person was injured in a car accident in the Bio Bio region.

More injuries were reported from falling debris in the interior of a Catholic church in Santiago.

"We were at mass when material started falling," a priest told the local media. "The people became frightened and fled."

Powerful aftershock

The US Geological Survey said the quake struck at 22:37 GMT some 32km northwest of Talca in Chile's Maule region, the same area ravaged by a massive 8.8 earthquake in late February 2010.

Hundreds of people ran into the streets in Talca in panic during the quake, which was felt for nearly a minute.

Chilean news media reported electrical blackouts and broken phone lines in the area around Talca, 300km south of the capital, Santiago.

Tall buildings shook in Santiago, and fear gripped people in shopping centres, supermarkets and the city's stadium where a football game was under way.

The USGS initially reported the quake's magnitude as 7.2 but later downgraded it to 7.1.

According to the USGS, which monitors earthquakes worldwide, the epicentre of Sunday's earthquake was 30km below the ground surface.

The Maule coastal region has been periodically shaken by powerful aftershocks since the February 27 2010 quake, which claimed more than 500 lives and billions of dollars in damage.

Most of the deaths in that quake occurred from tsunamis that slammed into coastal towns and villages.