Chile triggers national panic by mistakenly sending tsunami warning after quake

A warning sign painted on the street reading "Tsunami Evacuation" in La Serena, Coquimbo, Chile, taken on June 11, 2015.A warning sign painted on the street reading “Tsunami Evacuation” in La Serena, Coquimbo, Chile, taken on June 11, 2015.

Authorities in Chile have expressed regret for spreading panic with a mistaken tsunami warning calling for people to get out of coastal areas following an earthquake in Antarctica. On Saturday evening at 8:36 pm the country’s interior ministry tweeted a warning that a magnitude 7.1 earthquake had struck, 216 kilometers (about 134 miles) northeast of the O’Higgins Chilean scientific base at the tip of the Antarctic Peninsula.

In its tweet, the ministry called for coastal regions of Antarctica to be evacuated due to a tsunami risk, but the ministry mistakenly sent the message to cellphones across the entire country, urging people to abandon coastal areas. We want to provide peace of mind to the population, tell them that it is not necessary to evacuate the entire national territory, only the Antarctic base, Miguel Ortiz of the ministry’s National Emergency Office (ONEMI) told a news conference. He said the agency regretted the inconvenience caused by its messages, which he blamed on a technical error. The tsunami warning for Antarctica was later lifted. But the clarification came too late to rein in panic. People in coastal cities including La Serena, to the north of Santiago, and Valparaiso, started to leave areas close to the coast after the warning until reports stated that it was a false alarm.

As Chileans were reacting to the warning, a second tremor, of magnitude 5.6, struck the Chile-Argentina border region according to the GFZ German Research Center for Geosciences. The tremor measures a depth of 133 km (82.6 miles), and took place 30 km (18.6 miles) east of Santiago. No damage was reported from either quake. Sernageomin said that following the first quake, 80 people were evacuated from Chile’s main base in the Antarctic, the Presidente Eduardo Frei Montalva Base on Fildes Peninsula west of King George Island, and 55 more from three other bases, along with five foreign bases. The second quake was close to Codelco’s Andina and Teniente copper mines and Anglo American PLC’s Los Bronces. The Chilean mining regulator Sernageomin said that workers, mining operations and facilities had reported no problems after the quake.

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