SANTIAGO, Chile — A 7.6-magnitude earthquake jolted southern Chile on Sunday, prompting thousands to evacuate coastal areas, but no fatalities or major damage were reported in the tourist and salmon-farming region.
Chile’s National Emergency Office (ONEMI) lifted the evacuation order and a tsunami watch three hours after the Christmas Day quake struck, telling nearly 5,000 people who had evacuated that they could return to their homes.
Onemi said one bridge in the area was impassable as crews worked to restore electricity to 21,000 homes without power.
Officials had issued a tsunami warning earlier for areas within 621 miles of the epicenter, just 25 miles southwest of Puerto Quellon, off the coast. But the warning was downgraded to a tsunami watch. 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, in the southwestern city of Bariloche, but structural damage in areas close to the epicenter was limited, witnesses said.
The quake’s depth was about 21.5 miles, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) said.
The temblor disrupted Christmas plans for thousands of people, who fled their homes on foot, in cars and on horseback, seeking higher ground amid torrential rains as sirens warned about the potential tsunami.
Although there were dozens of weaker aftershocks, damage was concentrated along a highway that runs across Chiloe Island, where traffic was shut down in one section and on smaller roads and bridges.
Local television showed damage to some homes, especially in Quellon and surrounding areas.
The area hit by Sunday’s quake was south of Valdivia, Chile, where 1,655 people died in a 1960 quake ranked by the USGS as the most powerful recorded in Chile.
The region is home to several industrial salmon farms. An official with Chile’s National Fish and Aquaculture Service said several companies had evacuated employees and were evaluating their facilities for possible damage.
Chile is the world’s leading copper producer, but there are no major mines located near the zone affected by the earthquake.
The 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.
Latam Airlines and Sky Airlines said their southern Chile routes were operating without major delays.
Chile has a long history of deadly quakes, including an 8.8-magnitude temblor in 2010 off the south-central coast, which also triggered a tsunami that devastated coastal towns.