SANTIAGO: A 7.1 magnitude earthquake has struck central Chile, prompting an short-lived evacuation order for coastal areas for fear of a tsunami and causing panic in an area devastated by a massive quake two years ago.
There were no immediate reports of deaths or significant damage, officials said. And the evacuation order issued for the central coast of Chile — the same area devastated in 2010 — was lifted a few hours later.
The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center said “a destructive Pacific-wide tsunami is not expected.”Government spokesman 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 preventively 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.
“For now we do not have reports of any fatalities. There is some evidence of people injured, unfortunately from pieces of walls that fell,” Interior Minister Rodrigo Hinzpeter said.
The US Geological Survey said the quake struck at 2237 GMT on Sunday some 32 kilometers (20 miles) from 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, 300 kilometers (190 miles) south of the capital Santiago.
Tall buildings shook in Santiago, and fear gripped people in shopping centers, supermarkets and the city's stadium where a football game was under way.
Some 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 medial. “The people became frightened and left.”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 epicenter of Sunday's earthquake was 30 kilometers (almost 19 miles) 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.