On February 27, 2010 an 8.8 earthquake struck southern Chile. I’ve been to Concepcion, hard hit near the epicenter, that suffered 90% destruction of the center city. More than 500 people died. Chances are I’ve met some of those people. This is a sad time for me. The toll would have been greater if the country was not prepared. Chile is a very sophisticated country. However, the feel of the country is that the whole thing could slide into the sea at any moment. It feels immanent. In 1960 (9.5 in Valdivia in southern Chile) and in 2010 (Conception in southern Chile) it wasn’t just a feeling.
This time Santiago, the capital, felt a 7.5 tremor. That city is well prepared for earthquakes. (As a frame of reference, the recent earthquake in Haiti was 7.0. and the last earthquake to hit Santiago directly was in 1647.) Some building collapsed in Santiago despite the preparedness. In one case, the earthquake caused a serious fire. In another case, a fallen apartment building destroyed fifty cars. Santiago was not affected by the subsequent tsunami (8 ft.) as it is inland.
I’ve been reading about the aftershocks. Now, that doesn’t sound all that serious does it? That is unless the aftershocks are 7.0! It has been weeks of those one after another. That’s like a Haiti earthquake every week. It does feel as if the whole place will slip into the ocean someday.
Chile is a very beautiful country. Chile has a kind of very primal quality as if the place was just formed geologically. It is uncanny. Traveling south I saw an active volcano about every twenty miles. They were smoking. I thought, when is one going to erupt, five minutes? Of course, a volcano isn’t an earthquake but the result could be very scary anyway.
In terms of Concepcion, what can they lose after a 90% destruction? What else could aftershocks and volcanoes do?
I’ve been asked about the relief effort. That seemingly innocent question raises an old controversy. Chile has to be very careful of people offering help because there are often (ie: always) strings attached. Why does help have to be political? Particulary the U.S. has been very involved (and well
documented) in the interferrance in Chilean internal affairs even to the extent of trying to disrupt the democratic process in favor of dictatorship.
The Alliance for Progress (1964) was like that and things got worse. Chile has every right to be careful and independently ready for catastrophe. The answer to the question “what can they lose” is soverignty. Chile has found its own answer. Rather than accept relief, Chile chose to prepare independantly for disaster. That is what has happened. The only question, then, was in how fast the Chilean government can respond. So then, relief is welcome in Chile (especially field hospitals) but please don’t expect an entirely enthusiastic response because of those anticipated strings all too often attached.
So, Chile is prepared both for disaster and for interferrance. Besides, the whole thing hasn’t fallen into the ocean yet and there is still time!