CARACAS — Venezuela was rocked by a 7.3-magnitude earthquake near its northeastern coast, the US Geological Survey said on Tuesday, causing panic although there were no immediate reports of injuries or damage.
Edwin Rojas, the governor of the nearest state to the earthquake, told government television "the situation is calm", adding that "it’s been many years since we’ve felt a quake of this level."
Rojas denounced social media reports of a tsunami as "psycho-terror" that "seeks to fish in troubled waters and alarm the population".
"There is no tsunami threat from this earthquake," the US Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre said.
Rojas added that hospitals had given no reports of injuries.
Jose Nevada, 35, from the eastern Delta Amacuro state said the tremor was "very strong" there.
"People ran out into the streets, many stayed there and in some places the lights went out," he said by telephone.
The tremor was felt for several seconds some 400km away in the capital 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.
’Windows started to move’
"The whole building was shaking, the whole building moved. Many people went down in their pyjamas," said 30-year-old Eduardo Zambrano, who lives on the 11th floor of a building in Caracas.
Dorothy Villalobos said she was in a bank when the quake struck. "The windows started to move, and the tables and chairs," she said.
She said bank employees told everyone to get out but some queueing at a cash dispenser -- desperate to withdraw the limited notes they’re authorised to claim in the cash-strapped country -- "didn’t want to leave".
"The pictures wobbled and the window panes creaked. I went down the stairs and the doors of every apartment on the 10 floors of my building were open," said Jose Oviedo, who lives just to the east of Caracas.
"We gathered downstairs. I saw a redheaded lady, white from fright, crying."
Phone lines collapsed for several minutes under the weight of cellphone calls made in the quake’s aftermath.
People took whatever they could form their buildings while others hugged each other and cried.
The USGS said the tremor occurred just after 5:30pm local time, with the epicentre close to the coast of the state of Sucre, at a depth of 123km. — AFP