Major earthquake rocks Chile, no fatalities reported
A MAJOR 7.6 magnitude earthquake jolted southern Chile on Sunday, prompting thousands to evacuate coastal areas, but no fatalities or major damage were reported in the tourism and salmon farming region.
Witnesses reported intense shaking in their homes and were shocked by the loud noise. The quake disrupted Christmas celebration plans for thousands of people who fled on foot, in cars and on horseback, seeking higher ground amid torrential rains in some places as sirens warned of a potential tsunami.
Chile's National Emergency Office lifted both the evacuation order and a tsunami watch three hours after the Christmas Day quake struck, telling nearly 5000 people who had evacuated they could return to their homes.
One bridge in the area was impassable and some roads were closed as crews worked to restore electricity to some 21,000 homes left without power.
Officials had issued a tsunami warning earlier for areas within 1000 km of the epicenter, just 39km south-west of Quellon, off the coast. But the warning was downgraded to a tsunami watch.
"It's great news that as of now, we don't have to mourn any deaths as a result of the earthquake in the south," Chilean President Michelle Bachelet said on Twitter.
The quake was relatively shallow, at a depth of about 34.6 km (21.5 miles), according to the U.S. Geological Survey.
The area hit by Sunday's quake was south of Valdivia, Chile, where 1655 people died in a magnitude 9.5 quake in 1960, ranked by the USGS as the most powerful earthquake ever recorded in the world.