May 4, 2009 / 1:54 PM / in 11 years

Venezuelan capital jolted by 5.3 earthquake

CARACAS (Reuters) - An earthquake sent residents running from their homes and shook buildings across oil exporting Venezuela’s densely populated coastal region, including the capital Caracas, before dawn on Monday.

The quake was 5.3 magnitude, with the epicenter 25 miles south of Caracas and at a depth of 6.2 miles, the U.S. Geological Survey said.

The tremor was the second to hit Venezuela in recent weeks, unusual for OPEC member nation. Despite early morning rain, many Caracas residents ran from their homes as buildings shook at 5:40 a.m. EDT.

Venezuela’s Civil Protection Authority said the quake had caused alarm but there were no reports of damage or casualties. State oil company PDVSA said its installations were unaffected.

The tremor and three smaller aftershocks were felt in several of Venezuela’s most populated states close to the Caribbean coast and officials called for calm.

“Fortunately, we have not yet received any reports of material or structural damage,” Interior Minister Tareck El Aissami said on state television. “Residents who are in the street should return to their homes.”

The earthquake hit an area that contains little of Venezuela’s oil operations and the government said everything was running normally.

“We have reports of absolute normality from all areas,” Oil Minister Rafael Ramirez said on state television.

Venezuela’s seismological authorities measured the tremor as 5.4 magnitude, with a 4.0 magnitude tremor registered about 15 minutes after the first.

In 1967 a large earthquake hit Caracas, causing tower blocks to collapse and killing 240 people, mainly in a wealthy district in the center of the city.

Reporting by Caracas Newsroom; Editing by Bill Trott

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