100s flee in panic after Chile quake

2012-04-17 15:43

Santiago - A strong, magnitude-6.7 earthquake rocked central Chile late on Monday, prompting authorities to order a preventative evacuation of a stretch of coastline, causing hundreds of people to flee buildings in panic and shaking up the visiting prime minister of Canada.

There were no reports of major damage, but authorities in the port city of Valparaiso said a 72-year-old man died of a heart attack during the quake, which was felt for almost a minute in Valparaiso and the capital, Santiago.

The US Geological Survey initially put the quake's magnitude at 6.5 but later raised it to 6.7. Its epicentre was 42km northeast of Valparaiso, and it had a depth of 37km. It struck just minutes before midnight local time on Monday (03:50 Tuesday GMT).

The Chilean navy's hydrographic and oceanographic service discounted the possibility of a tsunami, but authorities maintained an order for people to move to higher ground along a roughly 780km stretch of coastline running from the city of Constitucion to Tongoy, north of the capital.

No reports of injuries

Deputy Interior Secretary Rodrigo Ubilla said the preventative evacuation would be kept in place until authorities had confirmed that there were no major variations in the ocean.

The quake knocked out power and telephone service in various parts of Santiago, but the National Emergency Office of the Interior Ministry said that it had received no reports of major damage or injuries so far.

There were reports of rockslides on a highway outside of Santiago, and residents of Valparaiso said the facades of some old buildings had fallen.

Public Works Minister Laurence Golbourne said that that Chile's airports and roadways appeared undamaged.

Earthquake-prone area

Visiting Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper was awakened by the earthquake, but was not hurt.

"The prime minister and his wife were at the hotel when the earthquake happened," said Andrew MacDougall, Harper's director of communications.

"All members of the Canadian delegation, including the prime minister, and his wife, Laureen, are just fine."

Still, the event shook up the delegation travelling with Harper at the end of a four-day trip to Colombia and South America.

On his Twitter page, Canadian Parliament member Randy Hoback wrote, "With PM in Chile. Just experienced Earthquake. Everything A ok! Just freaky! [sic]"

Chile is highly earthquake-prone. A magnitude-7.1 earthquake struck central Chile on March 25, the strongest and longest that many people said they had felt since a huge quake devastated that region two years ago.

In 2010, the 8.8-magnitude quake caused a tsunami that obliterated much of the coastal downtown of the central Chilean city of Constitucion.