Chilean authorities ordered coastal evacuations on Sunday following a powerful Christmas Day earthquake offshore the south of the country that triggered tsunami alerts.
The quake registered 7.7 on the Moment Magnitude scale according to seismologists at the US Geological Survey. Chile’s ONEMI national emergencies office ONEMI put it at 7.6. The epicentre was on the southern part of Chiloe island, in a zone of several national parks.
The closest population centre was Castro, a town on the island of 40,000 inhabitants. Chile’s capital Santiago was around 1,000 kilometers from the epicenter.
“The earthquake hit us as we were having breakfast and we immediately ran out of the house because of fears of a tsunami,” one man who took his family to high ground told Chilean television.
Chilean media tweeted images of roads that had been cracked by the force of the quake. In some cases, part of the bitumen was cleaved away.
There were no immediate reports of casualties, though electricity was cut to some communities. Telephone and internet continued to work.
The quake struck as Chileans were were their families celebrating Christmas. All shops were closed. ONEMI and the USGS both issued a tsunami alert. Chilean officials called for coastal areas nearby to be evacuated.
The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center in Honolulu, Hawaii, said in a bulletin that “hazardous tsunamic waves are forecast for some coasts.” The quake had a depth of 15 kilometers according to the PTWC.
Chile is in a quake-prone region, lying on the so-called Pacific Ring of Fire of frequent seismic activity. As a result, buildings are usually built to resist swaying.
The last big quake to shake Chile was on September 16, 2015, when an 8.3 temblor followed by a tsunami hit the north of the country, killing 15 people. A coastal evacuation order had limited the number of casualties.
In 2010 another quake measuring 8.8, also followed by a tsunami, struck the centre and south of the country, killing more than 500 people.