Chile: Praise for Earthquake Preparedness

The force exerted by the 8.8-magnitude earthquake that rattled Chile in the early morning hours of February 27 has shocked a country that is used to the earth shaking underneath their feet. Quakes are commonplace in Chile; since 1906 and counting this most recent earthquake, Chile has experienced 28 earthquakes [es]—without counting the smaller in magnitude but still frequent seismic activity that is often felt around the country. The three biggest earthquakes that many Chileans can still remember left 30,000 dead in 1939, 3,000 in 1960, and 177 in 1985.

The international community together with Chileans living abroad have praised Chile’s preparedness in front of this devastating situation, which could have had an even higher casualty total.

Cory Hunt in the blog Better Now than Never wrote a post on February 28 about the earthquake in Chile. The post begins by saying:

I have been following the events that have taken place in Chile today, as well as the subsequent tsunami warnings that have spread across the Pacific. The Chilean government, society, and people should be praised for their readiness in dealing with such a catastrophic natural disaster…as of this writing, Chile has still not appealed for international help even though the death toll has topped 300.

Destruction in Santiago, Chile after earthquake. Picture uploaded by flick user Ignacio Nuñez C. and used under a Creative Commons license.

Destruction in Santiago, Chile after earthquake. Picture uploaded by flick user Ignacio Nuñez C. and used under a Creative Commons license.

El Pollo from the blog De Cualquier Vaina [es] lived in Santiago for six months in 1998 and felt three earthquakes while he was there. He describes what he saw during one of them and the importance of the building structures for safety:

En mi estadía sentí 3 y en uno de ellos vi, -mientras estaba despertándome en mi cama-, como por la ventana de mi apartamento en Apoquindo, se asomaban los edificios que tenía enfrente y el mío se mecía como un columpio. Estaba impresionado con las edificaciones ya que estaban en su mayoría construídos bajo estrictos códigos para mantenerse en pie ante los movimientos telúricos. Los chilenos dicen que en cada década había un terremoto fuerte que dejaba “la escoba”. Es decir, que volvía un desastre las ciudades.

During my stay I felt 3 and during one of them I saw –while I was getting out of bed- how the buildings in front of me appeared through the window of my apartment in Apoquindo (street in Santiago) and how mine rocked like a swing. I was impressed with the buildings since most of them where built under strict codes to remain standing during seismic movements. Chileans say that every decade there was a strong earthquake that left the city “la escoba” (like a broom) . That means, the earthquakes turned cities into disaster zones.

The Puerto Rican blog Puerto Space [es] compared Chile´s experience to that of Haiti during their recent earthquake, and wonders how such an event would affect Puerto Rico:

Pero, por que al ser el terremoto de Chile mas grande que el de Haiti, hubieron menos muertes? Todo se trata de la preparación del país para manejar la situación. Chile es un país en la costa pacifica de América del Sur, con una economía solida en América del Sur y una gran historia con los sismos. No es la primera vez que un gran terremoto extremece a Chile, pues este es el tercer terremoto de sobre 8.7 en Chile. Haiti es un país mas pobre, y no estaba preparado para un gran sismo como Chile. Las autoridades de Haiti estiman los muertos en los 220,000 mientras que en Chile son en los cientos. Ahora la pregunta que nos preguntamos en Puerto Rico todos los días. Estaremos preparados para un gran terremoto?

But why during the earthquake in Chile which was larger than the one in Haiti, there were less casualties? Everything is due to the country’s preparation to manage the situation. Chile is a country in the Pacific coast of South America, with a solid economy in South America and a large history of earthquakes. It is not the first time that an earthquake has hit Chile, this being the third earthquake over 8.7 magnitude in Chile. Haiti is a poorer country, and they were not prepared for a big earthquake like Chile. Haitian authorities estimate 220,000 casualties while in Chile casualties are still in the hundreds. Now the question that we ask every day in Puerto Rico. Are we ready for a big earthquake?
Damage after earthquake. Picture uploaded by flickr user todosnuestrosmuertos and used under a Creative Commons license.

Damage after earthquake. Picture uploaded by flickr user todosnuestrosmuertos and used under a Creative Commons license.

In the midst of devastating news from around the world regarding other natural disasters, Chile’s preparedness stands as an example, showing that –despite the casualties and physical damage it has suffered—a much worse scenario was avoided thanks to infrastructure built to withstand earthquakes and a well-established government prepared to answer to disaster.

Felipe Vallejos, a Chilean living in the Dominican Republic, pointed out on his blog El Rincón del Chileno [es] that even with Chile’s physical preparation, the emotional damage is something no one is ever prepared for. He finishes with high hopes that his country will rebuild itself like it has so many other times:

Aunque siempre se destacó la preparación que Chile tiene para este tipo de fenómenos naturales, nadie puede ser preparado para perder la vida, nadie puede ser preparado para apurar la despedida, ni nadie será preparado para vivir la impotencia en los ojos de una señora que no pudo salvar a su hija, en la desesperación de saber que debajo de los escombros hay vidas que pueden ser salvadas, o en vivir en la incertidumbre más desoladora de la que se tenga memoria.

Chile se ha recuperado antes, pero el dolor ha sido irreparable. La naturaleza se ha ensañado una vez más con uno de los países más sísmicos del mundo, pero la fuerza de su gente, la energía positiva y todo el cariño de la comunidad internacional, harán que el pueblo chileno pueda sanarse, aunque para ello, necesite tiempo, esfuerzo y amor propio por su tierra.

Although Chile's preparation for this type of natural phenomenon has stood out, no one can be prepared to lose their life, no one can be prepared to hasten goodbyes, and no one will ever be prepared to experience the helplessness in the eyes of a woman who couldn't save her daughter, the desperation of knowing that under the rubble there are lives that can be saved, or living under the worst uncertainty anyone can remember.

Chile has recuperated before, but the pain has been irreparable. The force of nature has shown itself one more time in one of the most seismic countries of the world, but the strength of its people, the positive energy, and the affection from the international community, will make the Chilean people heal, even though it will take time, effort, and love for their country.


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