6.7 magnitude quake hits northern Chile: USGS

SANTIAGO (AFP) - A strong 6.7-magnitude earthquake jolted northern Chile on Wednesday, US monitors said, knocking out electricity and local telecom services and sending panicked northerners running into the streets.

The earthquake occurred at 2015 GMT, at the relatively shallow depth of 47.5km and the epicenter was located 102km from the mining town of Copiapo, the US Geological Service said.

That is about 800 km north of the capital Santiago. Chilean authorities did not immediately report any fatalities.

The quake, which lasted longer than a minute, downed phone service and power in cities in the region, local officials said.

Panicked people ran out into the streets of the town of Atacama, recalling the tsunami that hit the south three year ago, as homes were were damaged in the city of Vallenar, and in Copiapo, the quake knocked out windows.

"At city hall, some fragile items were smashed and a television set fell.

Some people ran out of the building," Vallenar mayor Cristian Tapia said.

He said some people were stunned and ran into the streets, and that some of them had panic attacks and were treated in local medical centers.

The Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre in Hawaii said in a preliminary report that, based on historical data, no destructive widespread tsunami threat existed, but noted that an earthquake of such magnitude could cause localised damage.

Meanwhile, Chile's National Tsunami Alert System said the conditions were not favourable for a tsunami event.

In February 2010, a massive 8.8-strength earthquake hit Chile's central Maule region, south of Valparaiso, generating tsunami waves, killing more than 500 people and causing about US$30 billion (S$36.9 billion) in damage.

Since then, further quakes have caused concern about what could come.

But experts said that Wednesday's quake was not related to the 2010 one; in fact they are on different tectonic plates.

The town of Copiapo garnered global attention two years ago when 33 workers were trapped deep inside a nearby mine for more than two months before being rescued.

It took emergency services 17 days to drill a small shaft to establish contact, and more than two months of painstaking effort before they opened a passageway wide enough to pull them out, one by one.

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