Major quake rattles Chile but no serious damage

SANTIAGO, MAR 26 - A major quake hit central Chile on Sunday, rattling buildings in the capital and triggering a coastal evacuation, but there was no serious damage and big mines in the world's No. 1 copper producer were operating normally.

Residents in 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 other immediate 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, the U.S. Geological Survey said, revising down an initial magnitude of 7.2.

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 ensuing tsunamis, killed about 500 people and hammered roads and infrastructure.

"So far there are no fatalities reported. There is evidence some people were injured, but not badly," Interior Minister Rodrigo Hinzpeter said, adding that electricity supply had been restored after disruptions in some areas.

"This event did not produce nor will it produce a tsunami on our country's coast," Hinzpeter added.

However, a government official later said there were signs the sea had retreated a bit, and the emergency office reordered a coastal evacuation in the Maule central region as a preventive measure.

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.

With the memory of the 2010 quake still seared into 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. "It just kept moving and didn't stop. It was very strong."

Chilean state copper giant Codelco said after the quake that operations were normal at its Andina mine and its El Teniente deposit, which is located nearer the epicenter. Together, 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, also said operations were normal after the tremor.

The central area is home to some important copper mines, but the bulk of output in the world's top copper exporting nation is concentrated in the far north.

Quakes of magnitude 7.0 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 last two years earthquakes have been a scourge of the insurance industry. In addition to Chile, 2011 quakes in Japan and New Zealand 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.

Posted on: 2012-03-26 09:32