By Felipe Iturrieta and Antonio De la Jara
SANTIAGO A major 7.6 magnitude earthquake struck southern Chile on Sunday, prompting thousands to evacuate coastal areas in a region known for tourism and salmon farming. No fatalities were reported from the Christmas Day quake, and officials removed a tsunami warning issued earlier for areas within 1,000 km (621 miles) of the epicenter of the quake 225 km (140 miles) southwest of Puerto Montt. Eight mostly small ports in the area were closed, Chile's Navy said. The quake was felt on the other side of the Andes mountains in Argentina, but structural damage in areas close to the epicenter was limited, witnesses said. "There was a lot, a lot of movement here, but besides that nothing of note, there weren't houses falling," said Alamiro Vera, owner of the Cabanas Hotel in the southern Chile fishing town of Quellon. "It was just scary, and some things inside fell." A Reuters witness said some roads and at least one bridge were damaged in Quellon, located on Chiloe Island, a tourist destination in Chile's Los Lagos region.
Chile's National Emergency Services (Onemi) chief Ricardo Toro said a tsunami watch remained in place even though the warning had been lifted, and reiterated his call for Los Lagos residents to abandon beaches and go to higher ground. Onemi said approximately 4,000 people had evacuated the Los Lagos area. The quake's depth was about 34.6 km (21.5 miles), the U.S. Geological Survey said. According to media reports, the quake was felt in the southwest Argentine city of Bariloche.
Fishing and agriculture company Empresas AquaChile SA said its employees in the watch zone had been evacuated and were safe, adding that there was no damage to its facilities. Several other companies have industrial salmon farming operations in the region, including Blumar SA, Cia Pesquera Camanchaca SA, Australis Seafoods SA, Multiexport Foods SA, Invermar SA, and the local unit of Norway's Marine Harvest ASA.
Chile is the world's leading copper producer, but there are no major mines located near the zone affected by the earthquake. Chile's state-run oil company ENAP said its Bio Bio refinery in southern Chile was operating normally. The Puerto Montt airport was operating normally, a spokesman said. Chile has a long history of deadly quakes, including a 8.8 magnitude quake in 2010 off the south-central coast, which also triggered a tsunami that devastated coastal towns. (Additional reporting by Gram Slattery; Writing by Mary Milliken and Luc Cohen; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe)
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Updated Date: Dec 25, 2016 23:30:06 IST