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Major Quake Rocks Northern Chile

March 5, 1987

SANTIAGO, Chile (AP) _ A strong earthquake rocked northern Chile today, damaging buildings, knocking out electricity and frightening residents.

The government reported the temblor caused no injuries. Police said the quake lasted 40 seconds and affected a 650-mile stretch of territory that is home to more than 550,000 people.

Onemi, the government’s national emergency office, said the quake struck at 6:17 a.m. and measured 5.5 on the Richter scale in the cities of Antofagasta, Calama and Chuquicamata.

The emergency office issued a communique saying no injuries were reported because of the quake. The communique said the tremor caused ″broken windows, the collapse of cornices in old buildings and minor damage in some private residences.″

Police said people took to the streets in panic in some places after the quake. An aftershock at 7:58 a.m. also frightened residents, police said. The aftershock registered 3 on the Richter scale.

Antofagasta is a port city 870 miles north of Santiago that is home to about 125,000 people. Chuquicamata, site of the world’s largest open pit copper mine, and Calama are inland cities more than 100 miles northeast of Antofagasta.

Police in Antofagasta said two walls collapsed in the city, including one in a movie house that was being demolished.

The temblor damaged a small bridge in Calama and caused several minor landslides in the Chuquicamata mine, police said. However, mining operations were not affected, they said.

The quake cut off electricity in most places in the affected area. Power was being restored gradually.

In Washington, U.S. Geological Survey spokeswoman Gail Wendt said USGS instruments in Colorado measured a preliminary magnitude of 7.3 on the Richter scale, and said the quake was centered about 20 miles northeast of Antofagasta.

The last large earthquakes to occur in the same general area were a magnitude 6.3 temblor in 1975 and 6.7 quake in 1970, Ms. Wendt said.

The Richter scale is a gauge of the energy released by an earthquake, as measured by the ground motion recorded on a seismograph. Every increase of one number means that the ground motion is 10 times greater.

A quake of magnitude 5 can cause considerable damage in populated areas. A quake of magnitude 6 can cause severe damage in populated areas. A quake of magnitude 7 is considered a major earthquake, capable of widespread, heavy damage in populated areas.

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