The swearing-in ceremony of Chile’s new president, Sebastian Pinera, has been overshadowed by the strongest aftershock since last month’s devastating earthquake.
Mr Pinera was inaugurated in an understated ceremony in the city of Valparaiso just 115 kilometres north of where a 6.9-magnitude aftershock rocked the country moments earlier.
The aftershocks caused panic at the parliament. Many guests, including foreign dignitaries, were visibly shaken, and the parliament was urgently evacuated afterwards. A tsunami alert was issued but later withdrawn.
Mr Pinera said one of the aftershocks had caused “significant damage” to the central city of Rancagua.
It marks a dramatic start for the conservative president, who has committed himself to rebuilding the country after last month’s devastating earthquake.
The centre-right billionaire says his will be the government “not of the earthquake, but of the reconstruction”.
The largest aftershock was a peak in a wave of more than 200 which have shaken the South American nation since the massive 8.8-quake of February 27, which sparked a killer tsunami and left almost 500 confirmed dead.
Mr Pinera inherited the presidential reins from wildly popular left-wing leader Michelle Bachelet and is now left facing the huge challenge of rebuilding the nation.
He later waved from an open-topped car to those who had not fled the area to higher ground in case of a tsunami, after the alert was issued along more than 400 kilometres of nearby coastline.
The National Emergency Office, sharply criticised for its slow reaction to February’s deadly quake, swiftly issued the alert for central areas of Chile, although the Haiwaii-based Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre said there was no threat of a “destructive widespread tsunami.”
No damage or injured were immediately reported after the quakes, which were felt in neighbouring Argentina and even registered as far away as Hong Kong.
Mr Pinera’s first task as president was to be a visit to the ravaged coastal town of Constitucion, one of the worst hit by last month’s quake and the giant waves that followed, that left some 2 million people homeless.
His January victory spelled an end to the ruling left-wing coalition that has governed Chile since the end of General Pinochet’s dictatorship 20 years ago.
But his presidency will be marked by the aftermath of the quakes.
“We won’t be the government of the earthquake, we’ll be the government of reconstruction,” Mr Pinera said recently.