Damage from the 7.3-magnitude quake, which shook the nation’s northeastern coast and parts of the Caribbean, was limited by the depth of tremors beneath the Earth’s surface.
The US Geological Survey measured the earthquake at a depth of 76 miles (123km), with an epicentre a few miles off the Cariaco peninsula.
“Shaking does die off at a distance,” seismologist Lucy Jones, a research associate with the California Institute of Technology, said.
In Cumana, the biggest city near the earthquake’s centre, supermarket shelves came crashing down while in downtown Caracas, concrete from the top floors of the unfinished Tower of David skyscraper fell onto the pavement.
Children at a nearby foundation for cancer sufferers were forced to flee while wearing surgical masks, as debris rained down.
“We felt something strong and they told everyone to run,” said Marisela Lopez, who was at the foundation with her 7-year-old daughter when the quake struck.
The earthquake was felt as far away as Colombia’s capital of Bogota, where authorities briefly closed the international airport to inspect for runway damage.
Power outages were reported across nearby Trinidad, where people ran into the street as large glass panes at one supermarket shattered and falling concrete smashed several cars.
No injuries or deaths have been immediately reported.
The earthquake also was felt in Guyana, Barbados and Grenada.
Experts have long warned that Venezuela’s cash-strapped government is ill-prepared to deal with a major natural disaster.
Hospitals have scant supplies, many ambulances are grounded and there is a food and water shortage in a country suffering from inflation estimated by the International Monetary Fund to reach one million per cent this year.
Agencies contributed to this report
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies