By Gram Slattery
SANTIAGO (Reuters) - Chile's government set to work on Monday repairing roads and restoring electricity to southern regions affected by a major earthquake that struck on Christmas Day, frightening thousands but resulting in no fatalities or major damage.
The quake, a magnitude 7.6 centered off Chiloe Island northwest of Patagonia, caused thousands in the tourism and salmon farming region to evacuate to higher ground amid fears of a tsunami. A tsunami never materialized however and, thanks to strict building codes in the earthquake-prone nation, structural damage was light. By Sunday night, almost all Chileans had returned to their homes.
The quake did, however, cause at least one bridge collapse, cut power to 21,000 Chileans, and severed sections of the island's major highway.
"There are zones with landslides and cutoffs," Chilean Public Works Minister Alberto Undurraga said in televised remarks, adding that it will take two to seven days to make the needed repairs to the area's highways.
"All of our teams are on the island to re-establish connectivity, which is the main aspect that has affected the island. The rest is functioning normally, the cities are working."
Chile's energy minister, Andres Rebolledo, said on Twitter that power had been restored to all but 6,000 customers as of Sunday night.
Chile's state-run oil company, ENAP [ENAP.UL], said on Twitter that one of its ships had already landed on Chiloe, ensuring a supply of gasoline for at least the next 15 days. In the moments after the quake, many of the island's residents had rushed to gas stations, amid fears that damaged roads would cut supply.
The region's only significant port, in the city of Puerto Montt, reopened after a brief closure, according to the navy, and Chile's aquaculture service said the zone's key salmon farming industry was not affected.
Chiloe, a misty, forested island popular with tourists for its traditional culture and pastoral scenery is in a seismically active zone, like much of Chile. As a result, the government has strict procedures to minimize damage and injuries during quakes, and residents and authorities are generally well prepared when they do strike.
"I want to emphasize the exemplary way the affected communities reacted," Chilean President Michelle Bachelet said in a speech.
"The government will continue going out into the field, taking all the necessary measures to re-establish normalcy on Chiloe Island."
(Reporting by Gram Slattery; Additional reporting by Antonio de la Jara; Editing by Jonathan Oatis)