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Magnitude 6.8 Quake Hits South Chile; Buildings Sway

A magnitude-6.8 earthquake disrupted electricity and telephone services in southern Chile today, almost a year after a quake and tsunamis devastated the area.

The temblor occurred about 3:05 p.m. New York time, 395 kilometers (245 miles) south south-west of Santiago, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. The quake was felt in the capital, where buildings swayed in the downtown area. The USGS initially said the quake was magnitude 7.

Emergency response systems worked and there were no reports of deaths or significant damage, President Sebastian Pinera told reporters in Santiago. An 8.8-magnitude quake, the fifth- strongest in a century, hit southern and central Chile on Feb. 27, 2010, killing more than 500 people and causing $30 billion in damage. This tremor was an aftershock, Pinera said.

“There have been no reports of significant damage, death or accidents,” Pinera told reporters in remarks televised live on TVN. “There is no tsunami risk. Chile learned its lesson from the Feb. 27 earthquake. Today we’re better prepared.”

Empresa Nacional del Petroleo, Chile’s state-owned oil refinery, said operations at its Bio Bio plant were returning to normal after power to some of its units was cut. There was no damage to the refinery, a company official briefed on the matter said by phone, declining to be named citing company policy.

Water Outages

There were some residential power supply cuts and water outages in the city of Concepcion, 270 miles south of Santiago and 30 miles from the epicenter of the temblor, Pinera said. Shoppers in a Concepcion mall ran onto the street after the quake struck, some trembling and crying, images transmitted by TVN showed.

Mobile phone services became clogged, Pinera said. About half the region’s fixed phone lines are working, the government’s emergency office said on its website.

Residents fled coastal towns that were wiped out by tsunamis caused by last year’s quake, such as Dichato, TVN reported. The U.S. Pacific Tsunami Warning Center said there is no danger of the quake causing a tsunami that could hit Hawaii.

“There are no reports of damage but along the coast people naturally evacuated themselves given what happened last year,” Deputy Interior Minister Rodrigo Ubilla told reporters today in Santiago.

State-owned copper company Codelco’s El Teniente mine and Ventanas smelter in central Chile weren’t affected and were operating normally, a company official briefed on the matter said by telephone, declining to be named citing company policy. Marcelo Esquivel, a spokesman from Anglo American Plc that owns Los Bronces mine in central Chile, didn’t immediately return a call to his office number in Santiago.

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