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VALPARAISO, CHILE — A strong earthquake struck off the central Chilean coast on early Tuesday morning, forcing more than 13,000 people near the epicenter to evacuate their homes, officials said. There were no reports of serious damage.
The 6.3-magnitude earthquake at 12:50 a.m. local time (0350 GMT) was centered about 44 kilometers (27 miles) northwest of Valparaiso, the capital of the province which carries the same name and the seat of the legislative branch of the national government. It struck about 31.9 kilometers (19.8 miles) deep, making it a shallow earthquake, according to the Chilean Seismological Service.
The earthquake which lasted for nearly a minute was felt widely across large parts of central Chile, including in the nation's capital Santiago where people fled their homes in panic. The United States Geological Survey (USGS), which measured the strength of the earthquake at a magnitude 6.7, estimated up to 11.9 million people may have felt weak to very strong shaking.
Although neither the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center nor the Chilean navy's hydrographic and oceanographic service issued a tsunami warning, the Chilean government ordered a precautionary evacuation for a stretch of coastline from the city of Constitucion to Tongoy. Officials at the country's National Office of Emergency of the Interior Ministry (ONEMI) said more than 13,000 people were evacuated.
About two hours after the earthquake, authorities in the region issued an all-clear and the evacuees returned to their homes. There were no reports of serious damage or direct casualties as a result of the earthquake, but two people died of health problems while evacuating the coast. It was not immediately clear if the deaths were directly related to the earthquake or tsunami evacuation.
Chile sits on the so-called 'Pacific Ring of Fire' and is frequently struck by large earthquakes. On May 22, 1960, the 'Great Chilean earthquake' struck the coast of central Chile. The 9.5-magnitude earthquake, the largest earthquake ever instrumentally recorded, left between 490 and 5,700 people killed.
And on February 27, 2010, an epic 8.8-magnitude earthquake struck approximately 95 kilometers (60 miles) northwest of Chillan, offshore of Bio-Bio, at a depth of about 35 kilometers (21.7 miles). The earthquake, along with a resulting tsunami, left at least 525 people killed and more than 12,000 others injured while damages were estimated at $30 billion.
More recently, on March 25, a 6.8-magnitude earthquake struck about 27 kilometers (16 miles) north-northwest of Talca, the capital of the province which carries the same name. Seismologists initially said the earthquake, which killed one person and injured three others, had struck offshore, prompting authorities to evacuate thousands of people along the coast. The evacuations were canceled when it became clear that the quake was centered on land.