SANTIAGO (Reuters) - A major quake hit central Chile on Sunday, rattling buildings and temporarily triggering a coastal evacuation on fears of a tsunami, but there was no serious damage and big mines in the world’s top copper producer were operating normally.
Residents in Chile’s capital, Santiago, fled their homes as the tremor rattled television sets, kitchen cabinets and tables, and a mayor in the town of Parral in south-central Chile told local radio a 74-year-old woman died of a heart attack due to the quake. There were no reports of serious casualties.
The 7.1 magnitude quake struck 16 miles north- northwest of the town of Talca at a depth of 22 miles at 7:37 p.m. local time (5.47 p.m. EDT), the U.S. Geological Survey said, revising down an initial magnitude of 7.2. The tremor struck 136 miles from Santiago, home to about a third of Chile’s population of 17.2 million people.
It was one of the strongest quakes to hit Chile since a massive 8.8 temblor devastated the south-central region in early 2010, which triggered tsunamis, killed about 500 people and hammered roads and infrastructure.
The government lifted a preventive evacuation order just before midnight, after about 7,000 people were ordered to evacuate the Maule region’s coast due to signs the sea had retreated a bit, Chilean Health Minister Jaime Manalich said. No tsunami alert was issued.
“Fortunately, save for one person who died due to a heart problem, there are no fatalities and fortunately the country’s infrastructure, both public and private, resisted the earthquake’s effects well,” President Sebastian Pinera told reporters in Seoul, South Korea, where he is on an Asian tour.
The government emergency agency, ONEMI, said two people were injured after the fake ceiling of a church in Santiago collapsed, and one person suffered injuries from a transit accident in the Biobio region.
Interior Minister Rodrigo Hinzpeter said later there could be up to 10 people lightly injured from the quake. Electricity supply was restored after short disruptions in some areas.
With the memory of the February 2010 quake still seared in their memories, many Chileans were visibly shaken up.
“I was watching television and all of a sudden the sofa started to move, and lamps started to swing from one side to the other,” said Guilda Carrasco in Santiago. “It just kept moving and didn’t stop. It was very strong.”
Canadian tourist Rob Huneault was enjoying the warmth by a Santiago pool when the quake hit. “It started going crazy, waves shooting out of the pool,” he told Reuters.
Chilean state copper giant Codelco said after the quake that operations were normal at its Andina mine and El Teniente deposit, which is nearer the epicenter. The two mines produce about 635,000 metric tonnes (699,968 tons) of copper annually.
Global miner Anglo American said its Los Bronces copper mine in central Chile was operating normally, and the country’s top oil refinery, Bio Bio, said operations were normal after the tremor.
The central area is home to some important copper mines, but the bulk of output in Chile, which produces about a third of the world’s red metal, is concentrated in the north.
Quakes of magnitude 7 or above are capable of causing major damage. The 2010 quake caused roughly $8 billion in insured losses and economic losses of at least twice that.
In the past two years, earthquakes have been a scourge of the insurance industry. In addition to Chile, quakes in Japan and New Zealand in 2011 caused record-breaking losses in the tens of billions of dollars.
More recently, a major earthquake in Mexico caused limited losses, disaster modeling agencies said, given that it happened well away from major population centers.
Additional reporting by Alonso Soto in Brasilia, Antonio de la Jara, Fabian Cambero, Anthony Esposito and Moises Avila in Santiago; Writing by Dave Graham, Simon Gardner and Alexandra Ulmer; Editing by Peter Cooney