Earthquake shakes Chile, no injuries reported

SANTIAGO, Jan 2, 2011 (AFP) - A strong earthquake shook coastal Chile Sunday, disrupting power and communications services but caused no injuries or significant damage, authorities said, as tsunami fears led residents to seek higher ground.

The US Geological Survey said the 7.1 magnitude earthquake struck at 2020 GMT 69 kilometers (45 miles) northwest of Temuco, Chile, at a depth of 16 kilometers (10 miles).

Chile's National Emergency Office said the quake was "medium intensity" and struck Biobio, Maule and O'Higgins, a region in south-central Chile that was devastated by a 8.8 magnitude quake and tsunami in February 2010.

"Fortunately we have no accidents to lament, nor loss of life, nor major damage," said President Sebastian Pinera.

"All the services functioned normally. There were some partial power outages, there were some moments when telephone lines were saturated, but all the systems functioned normally except for these bottlenecks."

The emergency response agency's director Vicente Nunez told reporters that power outages and interruptions in telephone service were common in these cases.

The earthquake set off panicky reactions, however, with people fleeing to higher ground in Puerto Saavedra and Tirua out of fear of tsunamis, according to Chilean television.

Television images showed shoppers scrambling to get out of supermarkets and shopping centers when the quake hit.

But Pinera said people displayed calm in evacuating the coastal area near the quake's epicenter.

"They reacted swiftly and in keeping with what is required in these situations," he said.

The Chilean Navy's Hydrographic and Oceanographic Service discounted the threat of a tsunami, saying the epicenter was on land and not at sea.

An initial report by the USGS said the quake occurred offshore, but it later revised its findings. US authorities also ruled out the threat of a Pacific-wide tsunami.

"Based on all available data, a destructive Pacific-wide tsunami is not expected," the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center said in a bulletin.

"However, earthquakes of this size sometimes generate local tsunamis that can be destructive along coasts located within a hundred kilometers (62 miles) of the earthquake epicenter," it said.

The National Emergency Office said Sunday's temblor was followed nearly two hours later by a moderate aftershock.

The earthquake was also felt in Argentina's Patagonia region, near the border with Chile, especially in San Martin de los Andes, where dozens of people ran out of the customs building fearing it might collapse, the Bariloche News Agency said.

No injuries or damage from the quake were reported in Argentina.

Chile lies on the Pacific rim of fire and is prone to violent earthquakes. Last February's massive earthquake unleashed a tsunami that swept away entire villages.

The disaster left around 520 people dead, and caused an estimated 30 billion dollars in damage.

There were differing opinions Sunday over whether the latest quake and last year's disaster were related.

"This Sunday's quake was in keeping with the country's tectonic behavior, and has no relation to the quake on Feburary 27," said Nunez of the National Emergency Office.

But Sergio Barrientos, director of the Seismological Service at the University of Chile, told Chilean television, "An 8.8 magnitude quake will generate aftershocks for several years."

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