DUCOS, Martinique, Nov 29 (Reuters) - A powerful earthquake with a magnitude of 7.3 struck near the Caribbean island of Martinique on Thursday, sending tremors and panic through the region but causing little damage, witnesses said.
Residents screamed and fled into the streets as the deep quake rumbled for nearly 10 minutes. One person had a heart attack and another was injured jumping out of a window, according to witnesses.
"When it started, I ran out of the building straight away but when I saw my students were still inside I ran back and shouted, 'Everybody get out,'" said Pamela Morin, head of a training school in the central town of Lamentin. "Everybody was terrified."
At least five houses collapsed in the quake, the strongest in living memory, and walls cracked in buildings on Martinique and nearby St. Lucia to the south, authorities said.
But "there were neither deaths nor serious damage," said Bernard Cavignaux, assistant director general of Martinique's central university hospital, who spoke by telephone from the capital, Fort-de-France.
On St. Lucia, water lines and water tanks were damaged, said Julian Dubois, deputy director of the St. Lucia Civil Defense.
The quake hit at 3 p.m. (1900 GMT), 13 miles (21 km) northwest of Martinique, at a depth of 90 miles (145.4 km), the U.S. Geological Survey said. Earthquakes with a deep epicenter are less likely to cause damage.
No tsunami warning was issued because of the depth of the quake, Richard Robertson, head of the seismic research unit of the University of the West Indies, said from Trinidad.
The quake was felt as far away as Colombia. In the Venezuelan capital, Caracas, some residents evacuated offices.
There were no reports of injuries or damage to property in Venezuela and the state oil company said it had no reports of any of its installations being affected.
Trinidad affiliates of oil and gas majors BP Plc and BG Group said no damage had been reported at their offshore installations.
The quake was also felt in Guadeloupe, which, like Martinique, is an overseas department of France.
"Schools, secondary schools, and universities will be closed until Monday to give time to evaluate the safety of the premises," said Francois Pesneau, an official in the Guadeloupe prefecture. Martinique schools were also closed until Monday.
French Interior Minister Michele Alliot-Marie's office said she called a crisis meeting over the quake.
The earthquake also set off a series of false alarms in California and elsewhere as U.S. Geological Survey computers struggled to interpret the data from deep beneath the surface and suggested a series of other earthquakes.
"It has happened before and it will happen again," said David Oppenheimer, a scientist with the USGS in Menlo Park, California, about false alarms that included a 6.0 north of California's capital, Sacramento, that was quickly removed from the USGS Web site.
(Additional reporting by Tom Brown and Michael Christie in Miami, Saul Hudson in Caracas, Matthew Bigg in Atlanta, Adam Tanner in San Francisco, Linda Hutchinson-Jafar in Port of Spain and Jon Boyle in Paris; Writing by Matthew Bigg; Editing by Peter Cooney)
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