21,000 homes lose power after quake
A major magnitude-7.6 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.
Chile’s National Emergency Office, or ONEMI, lifted both the evacuation order and a tsunami watch three hours after the Christmas Day quake struck, telling nearly 5,000 people who had evacuated they could return to their homes.
Onemi said one bridge in the area was impassable as crews worked to restore electricity to 21,000 homes without power.
Officials had issued a tsunami warning earlier for areas within 1,000 kilometers of the epicenter, just 40 km southwest of Puerto Quellon, off the coast. But the warning was downgraded to a tsunami watch. Eight mostly small ports in the area were closed, Chile’s Navy said.
The quake was felt on the other side of the Andes mountains in Argentina, in the southwestern city of Bariloche, but structural damage in areas close to the epicenter was limited, witnesses said.
The quake’s depth was about 35 km, the US Geological Survey said.
“There was a lot, a lot of movement here, but besides that nothing of note, there weren’t houses falling,” said Alamiro Vera, owner of the Cabanas Hotel in the southern Chile fishing town of Quellon. “It was just scary, and some things inside fell.”
The quake disrupted Christmas plans for thousands of people who fled their homes on foot, in cars and on horseback, seeking higher ground amid torrential rains as sirens warned about the potential tsunami.
Quellon resident Denisse Alvarado was preparing to travel to the countryside to celebrate Christmas with friends when she felt the quake and ran out of her home.
“All of a sudden it shook and shook and shook,” Alvarado, 46, said. “I thought the house would fall and the ground would open because it was very strong and very loud.”
“It was the biggest scare of our lives,” she said.
I thought the house would fall and the ground would open ... It was the biggest scare of our lives.” Denisse Alvarado, Quellon resident
The area hit by Sunday’s quake was south of Valdivia, where 1,655 people died in a 1960 quake ranked by the USGS as the most powerful recorded in Chile.
The region is home to several industrial salmon farms. An official with Chile’s National Fish and Aquaculture Service said several companies had evacuated employees and were evaluating their facilities for possible damage.
Chile is the world’s leading copper producer, but there are no major mines located near the zone affected by the earthquake.
Chile has a long history of deadly quakes, including a magnitude-8.8 quake in 2010 off the south-central coast, which also triggered a tsunami that devastated coastal towns.
A damaged road is seen after a quake at Tarahuin, Chile, on Sunday.