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6.8 magnitude earthquake hits central Chile

February 11, 2011 12:00:00 AM PST
A magnitude 6.8 earthquake struck central Chile Friday, centered in almost exactly the same spot where last year's magnitude 8.8 quake spawned a tsunami and devastated coastal communities.

Rodrigo Ubillo, the vice interior minister, said they had no reports of damage or injuries, and the navy had "totally discounted any risk of a tsunami."

Still, the strong earthquake frightened many Chileans, especially along the coast, where people quickly moved to higher ground.

"There was a preventive self-evacuation," said Vicente Nunez, who directs the National Emergency Office, ONEMI. But he said Chileans could safely return home.

Residents fled their homes in Talcahuano, a port city whose center was ravaged last year by huge walls of water that sent shipping containers and fishing boats into downtown buildings and streets.

Skyscrapers swayed in the capital of Santiago. And in the inland town of Cauquenes, mothers ran into the streets carrying babies in their arms.

"I was really frightened. This is one of the strongest replicas we've had since last year's earthquake," said Ana Alarcon, who closed her small shop and took her two children in a search for her husband, who she couldn't reach by phone.

The earthquake struck offshore, about 30 miles north of the city of Concepcion. The epicenter was relatively close to the coast, almost exactly where the Feb. 27, 2010 earthquake was centered.

And while last year's massive quake killed at least 521 people and left 200,000 homeless, this time it seemed that Chile emerged relatively unscathed.

Friday's quake caused a blackout in Concepcion, another city still recovering from last year's disaster. And across the country, Chileans jammed cell phone networks trying to make sure their families were okay.