SANTIAGO (Reuters) - An earthquake killed at least seven people and injured 19 others in Chile as the strong tremor collapsed houses and walls in the north of the country, the National Emergency Office (Onemi) said on Wednesday.
Onemi said in a statement that a two-minute tremor measuring 6.8 degrees on the Richter scale had hit late on Tuesday from the Second Region in the north to the Seventh region in the south, where most of Chile's population lives.
Aftershocks continued to rattle central and northern Chile hours after the quake, causing panic in some cities and towns.
Earlier Interior Minister Carlos Figueroa said seven people died due to the quake, including a family of five who perished under rubble in their home.
The private Radio Cooperativa added yet another victim to the death toll, counting a man who died from a heart attack as the eighth casualty of the quake.
The strong tremor damaged buildings in several towns in the Fourth Region north of Santiago. Most of the injuries were sustained by people in that area who suffered cuts from falling shards of glass as the quake broke windows.
In Santiago the quake alarmed residents in apartment buildings, prompting many to rush into the streets in their pajamas.
The shaking was felt as far away as Argentine capital Buenos Aires, 1,000 miles (1,500 km) east of Santiago.
The earthquake had its epicenter near the town of Illapel, 190 miles (280 km) north of Santiago, at a depth of 22 miles (33 km), seismologists said.
Radio Cooperativa reported from one of the badly hit town of Vicuna, north of Illapel, that the quake cracked walls of houses, broke windows and knocked down power lines.
Residents huddled in Vicuna's main square after the quake struck, fearing aftershocks would cause more damage.
Congressman Jorge Pizarro, who hails from that area, said that there was damage to buildings in nearby Ovalle and that houses may have collapsed in surrounding rural areas.
In Santiago the quake caused brief power cuts and a temporary breakdown in telephone services, which were jammed by anxious residents. There were no reports of serious injuries in the capital city, although firemen had to rescue people trapped in lifts. Onemi added that ledges from two old churches also came crashing down.
Local radio said hospitals had to treat many people suffering from hysteria after the quake. REUTERSS