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Strong quake rocks Venezuela; buildings evacuated in capital

The top flowers of an abandoned, unfinished skyscraper known as "The Tower of David" are crooked, where the columns are exposed, top center, after a powerful earthquake shook eastern Venezuela, causing buildings to be evacuated in the capital of Caracas, Venezuela, on Aug. 21, 2018. (AP Photo/Ariana Cubillos)
Residents stand outside after a powerful earthquake shook eastern Venezuela, causing buildings to be evacuated in the capital of Caracas, Venezuela, on Aug. 21, 2018. (AP Photo/Ariana Cubillos)

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) -- A powerful earthquake shook Venezuela's northeastern coast on Tuesday, startling residents in the capital who evacuated buildings and briefly interrupting a pro-government rally in favor of a controversial economic reforms.

The U.S. Geological Survey put the magnitude of the quake at 7.3 and said it had a depth of 76 miles (123 kilometers). Its epicenter was 12 miles (20 kilometers) off the sparsely populated Cariaco peninsula that has seen several devastating quakes in the past.

A witness in Cumana, the biggest city near the epicenter, said there were initial reports of several injuries at a shopping center where an escalator fell, but that there were no other immediate signs of damage in the vicinity.

In downtown Caracas, concrete from the unfinished Tower of David office building fell to the sidewalk, creating a hazard.

John Boquett, a firefighter captain in Caracas, said there were no initial reports of injuries or major damage in the capital.

The quake was felt as far away as Colombia's capital of Bogota, where authorities briefly closed the international airport to inspect for runway damage. In Caracas, office workers and residents fled their buildings and homes.

The confusing moments after the quake were captured on state television as Diosdado Cabello, the head of the all-powerful constitutional assembly, was delivering a speech at a march in support of the socialist government's recent package of reforms to rescue an economy beset by hyperinflation and widespread shortages.

"Quake!" people yelled as Cabello and others looked from side to side with a mixture of laughter and concern. "It's the Bolivarian revolution speaking to the world," Cabello thundered to applause.

A similar-sized quake in the same area left dozens dead in 1997.

Interior Minister Nestor Reverol said that disaster relief teams had been activated but so far there were no reports of fatalities.

"We ask for the greatest patience and tranquility from the Venezuelan people," he said in a televised address. "These situations require prudence."

Power outages were reported across nearby Trinidad, where people ran into the street and gasped as large glass panes at one supermarket shattered and falling concrete smashed several cars. The quake also cracked walls and thousands of goods fell off supermarket shelves. No injuries or deaths were immediately reported.

Joan Latchman, a seismologist with The University of the West Indies Seismic Research Center, said it was the strongest earthquake felt in Trinidad since December 2016.

She said there were seven aftershocks within an hour of the quake, and that more were expected.

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