By Alexandra Ulmer and Deisy Buitrago
CARACAS (Reuters) - A major earthquake of magnitude 7.3 struck Venezuela's eastern coast, home to largely poor fishing communities, on Tuesday afternoon, shaking buildings as far away as Colombian capital Bogota and knocking power out in parts of Trinidad.
Venezuelan officials said there were no immediate reports of injuries and two sources at state oil company PDVSA told Reuters the OPEC member's refineries and oil fields were operating normally. PDVSA did not immediately comment.
But fretful Venezuelans with relatives close to the epicentre said they were struggling to contact their family members due to shaky phone lines.
And Venezuela is not in good shape to deal with a natural disaster. It is already wrestling with a crippling economic crisis - medicine is running short, hospitals are barely functioning and there are severe shortages of basics like chicken and milk.
The tremor - one of the country's strongest ever - hit at 5.31 p.m (2131 GMT). Along Venezuela's picturesque palm tree-dotted northern coast, residents said the long quake was terrifying and led people to dash into the streets.
"I had gotten into bed to watch the news on TV and my bed started to move as if it was made of water," said Elia Sanchez, a doctor in Cumana, the capital of the eastern state of Sucre that was the closest to the offshore epicentre. "We had to go down nine floors, it felt like it would never end."
Rosymer Rodriguez, also in Cumana, said she could not see any significant damage but that people were still fearful.
"There are still people in the street. There are people packing bags in case there are aftershocks," said Rodriguez.
The governor of Sucre told state television that so far there were no reports of deaths or major damage. He called for calm.
"Do not fall victim to psychological terror, messages about a tsunami and all that," said governor Edwin Rojas, who belongs to President Nicolas Maduro's Socialist Party.
The Information Ministry did not respond to a request for comment for additional information.
United States Geological Survey geophysicist Jessica Turner said the quake's depth, 76.5 miles (123 km) below the surface, would have dampened some of the shaking.
"A 7.3 magnitude quake is going to cause some damage, particularly as in this area, structures are vulnerable. The earth is able to absorb some of the energy, but a 7.3 quake produces a lot of energy," she said by telephone.
BOGOTA, TRINIDAD HIT
The quake was felt in capital Caracas, neighbouring Colombia and nearby island nations like Trinidad and Tobago, and St. Lucia, to the west and north.
In Trinidad and Tobago, there were initial reports of some cracks to buildings, cars damaged when concrete debris fell on them, and loss of electricity.
Colombia's government said there were no reports of victims or damage but workers dashed out of high-rise blocks in capital Bogota.
"It was a moment of panic, we thought the worst," said Jimena Valencia, a 29-year-old administrator in the north of Bogota.
The U.S. Pacific Tsunami Center cancelled an earlier warning of a possible tsunami along the coast near the epicentre, some 190 kilometres (118 miles) from Cumana.
(Reporting by Alexandra Ulmer and Deisy Buitrago in Caracas; additional reporting by Vivian Sequera, Brian Ellsworth, Shaylim Castro, Corina Pons and Mayela Armas in Caracas, Sandra Maler in Washington, Helen Murphy in Bogota, Linda Hutchinson-Jafar in Port of Spain, and Marianna Parraga in Mexico City; Writing by Alexandra Ulmer; Editing by Peter Cooney and Rosalba O'Brien)
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Updated Date: Aug 22, 2018 06:05:54 IST