Saturday, February 27, 2010
Although even one life lost is too many, preliminary death estimates in the Santiago, Chile earthquake are estimated in dozens rather than in tens of thousands, According to a report from the BBC. This is despite the fact that the earthquake at 8.8 on the Richter scale was rated as a hundred times stronger than the earthquake in Haiti. The Chilean earthquake, like the quake in Haiti, hit heavily populated area with vastly disparate results.
Chile is immeasurably wealthier than Haiti, a factor that must be considered in conjunction with building codes that are both exacting and strongly enforced. Corruption and bad government can be costly in human lives when an earthquake strikes. When Armenia was hit with a 6.9 earthquake in 1988, there was widespread homelessness and 25,000 deaths. A good part of the casualties were traced to fudging on the quality of construction standards, a lapse that became grimly apparent when disaster struck. Chile has a long history of familiarity with earthquakes. The largest quake ever recorded struck Chile in 1960, a factor that contributed greatly to a policy of national preparedness in that country.
A measure of the contrast between Santiago and Port Au Prince can be found in the following quote from a BBC interview with a Chilean who was at the scene when the massive earthquake struck Chile.
"We are in Santiago. Quake lasted about thirty seconds. Buildings shook violently. Seem to all have withstood structural damage but there is broken glass. Interior damage worse. Was terrifying. People still out on streets. Electricity down in many areas and no phones. We crouched in bathtub on fourteenth floor during the quake while things smashed around us. Still getting after tremors."
It is clear that infrastructure damage remains considerable. Equally significant is the question of invisible structural damage to buildings that appear to have survived the quake. In Port Au Prince, by contrast, the Presidential Palace as well as entire high income neighbourhoods disappeared in the moments following the first tremors. The strength of law in Haiti is in many instances little stronger than that of a non binding resolution of the legislature.
Like every natural disaster, the world must be on standby to help the people of Chile. Even less dramatic tasks such as approving and preparing buildings for occupancy and repairing torn gas lines will place heavy demands on Chile's government and people. But as Haiti and Chile struggle to return to normal, it is worth noting what was done right and what was done poorly. Nations that have thus far been spared the scourge of a massive earthquake would be well served by adherence to appropriate building codes and city planning. Location and strength of an earthquake are only part of the picture. Human controlled resources must be put to the best use possible . As Chile faces reconstruction and strong aftershocks, the world must stand by with prayer and with helping hands. Even with its prior preparation, Chile faces a rough road ahead. Sphere: Related Content