A 7.6/7.7 degrees earthquake affected five regions in southern Chile on Sunday but left no fatal casualties. “There is no loss of human life,” National Emergency Management Office (ONEMI) Director Ricardo Toro said.
The quake struck near the southern coast of the quake-prone South American nation at 10.22 AM local time, triggering initial tsunami fears and evacuations, but no deaths were reported and damage was minor.
The quake registered 7.7 on the Moment Magnitude scale according to seismologists at the US Geological Survey. Chile’s national emergencies office ONEMI put it at 7.6. ONEMI said around 4,000 people had been evacuated from one town, Los Lagos.
The epicenter of the shallow quake was on the southern part of Chiloe island, in a zone of several national parks. Authorities issued a tsunami alert immediately after the temblor, with people on the southern coast urged to flee to higher ground.
But that was later downgraded to a “state of precaution,” Toro explained. The public was still told to stay away from the beaches because of the risk of bigger than usual waves and currents.
Electricity and phone lines were briefly cut to some communities, and media showed images of cracked and cleaved roads. The mayor of the town of Ancud, Carlos Gomez, told Chilean television network Canal 13 that falling objects had caused some damage. But hours later, “everything was back to normal,” Toro added.
Chile’s president, Michelle Bachelet, sent “strength and thoughts to our compatriots affected by the quake in Chiloe” on her Twitter feed. The closest population center to the quake was Castro, a town on Chiloe island of 40,000 inhabitants. Chile’s capital Santiago was around 1,000 kilometers (600 miles) from the epicenter. Bachelet also told residents of the areas affected that the “emergency protocols are in operation.”
The quake struck as Chileans were with their families celebrating Christmas. All shops were closed.
Chile is in a quake-prone region, lying on the so-called Pacific Ring of Fire of frequent seismic activity. As a result, buildings are usually built to survive swaying.
The last big quake to shake Chile was in September 2015, when an 8.3 temblor followed by a tsunami hit the north of the country, killing 15 people. A coastal evacuation order had limited the number of casualties.
In 2010 another quake measuring 8.8, also followed by a tsunami, struck the center and south of the country, killing more than 500 people.
Emergency management officials issued a tsunami alert and ordered coastal evacuations in the southern regions of Biobio, La Araucania, Los Lagos, Los Rios and Aysen within minutes of the temblor hitting at 11:22 a.m.
The tsunami alert and evacuation order were cancelled two hours later in Biobio, the region furthest from Quellon, the town on Chiloe Island where the quake was felt the strongest.
The tsunami alert was lowered in Lagos, where residents are still being required to stay at least 80 meters (262 feet) away from shore.
Alerts remained in force in La Araucania, Los Rios and Aysen, officials said.
The highway to Quellon, located 1,284 kilometers (nearly 800 miles) from Santiago, has been partially cut off, Toro said.
Secondary roads and electric service have also been affected in the area, Toro said.
At least nine aftershocks with magnitudes ranging from 3.5 to 5.2 have been registered since the earthquake hit, the University of Chile’s Seismology Institute said.
The US Geological Survey (USGS) said in a report on its Web site that the temblor had a magnitude of 7.7.
Seismic activity is common in Chile, which has been affected by a number of powerful earthquakes. The South American country was hit by a magnitude-8.4 earthquake on Sept. 16, 2015, that killed 13 people, forced more than 9,000 others from their homes and caused extensive damage.
The earthquake caused a tsunami, forcing officials to order the evacuation of more than 1 million people living along the coast.