Strong magnitude 7.3 earthquake shakes Venezuela

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6.5-magnitude earthquake, (AFP Photo/Frederick Florin)

Venezuela was rocked by a 7.3-magnitude earthquake near its northeastern coast, the US Geological Survey said Tuesday, though there were no immediate reports of injuries or damage.

The tremor was felt for several seconds and caused panic in Caracas, notably in tall buildings, many of which were evacuated for fears of aftershocks or lasting structural damage.

Venezuela’s Interior Minister Nestor Reverol said the prolonged quake “was felt in several states” but that “for now, there are no reports of victims.”

He added that potential damage was still being assessed.

The USGS said the tremor occurred just after 5:30 pm (2130 GMT), with the epicenter close to the coast of the state of Sucre, at a depth of 123 kilometers (76 miles).

Venezuela’s Seismology Investigations Foundation measured the quake at magnitude 6.3, saying it was around 400 kilometers east of the capital Caracas.

“There is no tsunami threat from this earthquake,” the US Pacific Tsunami Warning Center said.

Social media was inundated with messages of alarm, particularly in the greater Caracas area that has a population of around four million.

Reverol called for “calm,” saying the country’s “risk evacuation team” had been “activated.”

Venezuela is already struggling with an economic and political crisis following four years of recession that has seen more than two million people flee the country, according to the United Nations.

It has left the country with food and medicine shortages, and failing public services such as running water, electricity and transport.

The last time the country was hit with a tremor this strong was in 1997 when 73 people were killed in a 7.0-magnitude quake in Sucre.

Thirty years earlier, 200 people died after a 6.7-magnitude tremor rocked Caracas.