Friday, March 5, 2010

Chile Earthquake 2010 Part II One week Later

Not all of Chile is like the images you see in the media. The media is showing the worst areas and the worst images for good reasons (areas that still need help) and bad reasons (more exciting headlines).

The photo is from several days ago-things are normal except for a few things like the skewed letters-It used to read "Fashion's Park"-the not so great English is "normal".

As most people know, the tsunamis caused much of the devastation, entire small towns wiped away. there's a lot of political sniping about warnings and whether people were warned quickly enough etc., etc.....but I know-and I have never lived on the coast but have visited coastal areas in Chile and Oregon-when an earthquake happens, as soon as you can run, you do. You can't wait for warnings. I read a story in which the grandparents saved their grandson's life by running to high ground. There is often little time to waste.

And the number of dead...truthfully, they don't know. Of course many fled the affected areas and many could have been washed out to sea and it is hard to know how many dead and how many missing until people are found or bodies discovered. Some of the numbers are here at the government site-they have apparently identified 279 dead. They say less but you will get different numbers in different places. The government said on Thursday the death toll, previously reported as 802, was unclear due to confusion over who was missing. Officials said they had identified 279 dead people, but were not sure how many bodies were unidentified.

I hate it that politics as usual as entered into this catastrophe so quickly.The Chilean earthquake hit just days before the landmark transition from outgoing President Michelle Bachelet to conservative President-elect Sebastian Piñera, and that is reopening old political fault lines that would better remain closed, says Peter M. Siavelis, director of Latin American Studies at Wake Forest University....Beneath Chile’s vaunted market economy is the perseverance of a historically powerful state,” Siavelis says. “Chile’s effective regulatory power, especially in the area of construction, prepared and built the capacity to both withstand and respond to such a catastrophic disaster in a way that a minimalist state could never have.” ...Of course the opposition and incoming government believe the opposite, that lives would have been saved had they been in power. Certainly, it is in the incoming government's coalition best interests to discredit President Bachelet because they do not want to run against her again in four years-she has been the most popular president in the history of Chile with over 80% approval ratings. The mayor of Concepcion has been the most vocal critic but it should be noted she is of the far-right UDI party(the party of Pinochet).

And the WSJ credits Friedman and laizze faire economics-what has happened to the Wall Street Journal???? Oh yeah, that's a Murdoch newspaper now.... the Huffingtonpost does a piece refuting the myth of Friedman's self named "miracle" a little. Friedman-style economic policies actually had Chile on a steep, downward path into Haitian-style privation. This is all ably documented by James Petras and Steve Vieux in "The Chilean 'Economic Miracle': An Empirical Critique". Under the guidance of the Chicago Boys, Pinochet concentrated wealth in the hands of the upper class, while wages and social services budgets declined. The authors similarly document a massive unemployment crisis in Chile during the Friedman period, which rose as high as 30%. Chileans generally credit Pinochet for putting more people in homes, but as a 1985 Mother Jones article points out, this was largely due to effective PR -- the housing rate under Pinochet "was actually slower than it was under" the two previous governments.

And wow, the banks. Greg Palast documents the carnage wrought by gangster speculators...

And Chile had the largest earthquake ever in 1960 which "took more than 2,000 lives and caused property damage estimated at $550 million (1960 dollars)." This happened in a much less populated Chile. Truly, I was unable to get what might be a real count-estimates of the dead in 1960 went as high as 5000. And I wonder if they counted the indigenous population.

But the above link has some nice historical photos, information and stories about the 1960 earthquake-it was caused by the same geological movement as the 2010 earthquake, so much of the information pertains as well.

Life is surprisingly normal here, although the isolated areas are still reeling from the quake. There are no longer even long gas lines or long lines at the grocery stores. The images you see are from the worst areas. It reminds me of effects from a from a really bad hailstorm we had in Denver back in the 80s.

A few random thoughts. people here get paid once a month on the first so because the quake hit just at the end of the month, people tend to be very low on food and supplies-hence the rush to the grocery stores afterwards. Always there are long lines on the first, worsened after the quake. But they also tend to stand very patiently in normally long lines to pay bills on the first too.

And one more link. "Chile has seen many earthquakes both before the 1960 record-setting temblor and after. Two very large contenders have happened on March 3, 1985, and another on July 30, 1995. These earthquakes both had a magnitude of about 8. Chilean earthquakes are not rare, nor are they small. Large earthquakes in Chile seem, through history, to occur about every 25 to 100 years. They'll continue as long as the Pacific plate continues subducting."

Things are normal here... except for those of us are a little more nervous with every aftershock(I hate the aftershocks and small earthquakes that I used to ignore). I'm glad I'm not on the coast....

Monday, March 1, 2010

Chile Earthquake 2010

As you know by now...

SANTIAGO, Chile (AP)-- A massive 8.8-magnitude earthquake capable of tremendous damage struck central Chile early Saturday, shaking the capital for a minute and a half and setting off a tsunami. Buildings collapsed and phone lines and electricity were down, making the extent of the damage difficult to determine.

The quake hit 200 miles (325 kilometers) southwest of the capital, Santiago, at a depth of 22 miles (35 kilometers) at 3:34 a.m. (0634 GMT; 1:34 a.m. EST), the U.S. Geological Survey reported.

The epicenter was just 70 miles (115 kilometers) from Concepcion, Chile's second-largest city, where more than 200,000 people live along the Bio Bio river, and 60 miles from the ski town of Chillan, a gateway to Andean ski resorts that was destroyed in a 1939 earthquake.

We are about 40 miles SE of Santiago in the country and our area (according to El Mercurio) experienced an 8.0 magnitude.

We have had no power or phones or internet really until now. Here is my best recollection of my experience. The well pump went out the day before because of worn ball bearings so we still have no water except bottled. Can't believe that timing...

Friday night we went to sleep as usual around 12:30 but (as is not usual) I awoke in the middle of the night to the bed moving. Having experience the usual small tremors here in Chile from time to time (this is usual every few months), i knew this was different as the tremors grew stronger instead of quickly disappearing as is usual...In the past a small amount of shaking and some rattling that is over in seconds. But this one grew ever louder and stronger and it was as if the earth was undulating and vibrating at an increasing pace.This went on and I was waiting for it to stop-they always stop you see. But it didn't and by the time I knew this was the big one, the house and the ground were moving violently, not slowing, the noise was louder, a roaring of the earth and some of our many books falling, some glass breaking...many noises that I couldn't grasp in my non-Chilean gringa half asleep state. We stayed in bed by that time, knowing it was too late and hanging on to each other for dear life. It was pitch black (we have black out drapes so the nearly full moon won't interrupt our sleep) and the bed was wildly shaking, pitching...and there was so much noise I couldn't take in.And I was terrified but not just of this earthquake but truly I knew for those minutes the untapped, the unleashed power of the earth, of nature. Some will say "God" and "God's will" a lot but I don't see I was better to be "saved" over the over 700 that have died or the millions that are homeless. "There but for the grace of God go I.." -ha I say. It is luck. I hear of the old man clutching his dead wife and I know like the other Chilean older women, she probably went to church and was deeply religious. Chile is 80% or so Catholic-you commonly see people crossing themselves as they pass a church. We were just very, very lucky.

Some irony here, I had wished we lived in Santiago, where the "action" is...or on the coast. It turns out, this was a better place to be.

The house that was built here a couple years ago is perfect, no damage whatsoever. It is cement and brick design with heavy re bar throughout. Now we know how it will fare in an earthquake at least. we had only books toppled (but not the bookcase), the wine bottle on my bedside crashed to the floor(hey, nothing like a glass of good Chilean red wine before sleeping!) and some things scattered to the floor. A little clean up in the morning but really less than you would imagine. I keep my plates and glasses in the upper cabinets and not a one broke so (even though Chileans told me not to), it's okay after all.

There are many people looking for people and cell phones were mostly knocked out. Yes, cell phones and most people here use only cell phones. Google has a people finder here and Allchile is helping with the location of the missing here

Many messages like this... "am searching for info about my father Joop Wisse in Chillan.I am very worried about him, and want to know if he is alright." followed by messages of those looking and then....

"Thanks, the only thing i can do is sit and wait...and thats not easy.

I hope that my dad is allright and that i soon will hear from him.."

Some other assorted bits from stories:

President Michelle Bachelet said Sunday that the death toll had reached 708 and was likely to rise. She also issued an order that will send soldiers into the streets in the worst-affected areas to both keep order and speed the distribution of aid.She called the magnitude-8.8 earthquake “an emergency unparalleled in the history of Chile.”

I saw her speak on TV here and she looked so tired and sad.

Some 100 aftershocks were recorded in Chile of magnitude 5 or larger, according to the NEIC. The largest had a 6.9 magnitude. The Chile temblor's aftershock zone—the length of the affected faultline—stretches for 375 miles, far longer than the 37-mile aftershock zone in Haiti.

The aftershocks, although we haven't felt the 100 but there are many, are still frightening. A rumble, a slight trembling and I stop and wait...and hope...

Earthquakes are caused by friction between tectonic plates, which are essentially shards of the earth's crust. They slip-slide past each other, very slowly but inexorably. Sometimes they get stuck, then jerk forward again, producing a quake. The last big earthquake near this point on the faultline occurred in 1835—when Charles Darwin was sailing nearby—and had an estimated 8.5 magnitude. Since then, the plates at this location have been trying to move past each other, but have been locked in place. Over the ensuing 175 years, the stresses and strains gradually built up.

Some say the stress has been relieved now. Some say other parts will be more stressed. Some say volcanoes (Chile has hundreds) will become more active.

And finally, even though the earthquake in Chile was much stronger in terms of magnitude than Haiti's, it was not as bad for a couple reasons. The ground here in Chile is simply more stable and the shaking experienced was not as violent. the ground beneath Haiti "shook like jello". And what makes modern quakes particularly devastating are megacities located near seismically active zones. "Earthquakes don't kill people, buildings kill people," says David Wald of the National Earthquake Information Center of the USGS. And Chile is prepared to a much larger extent. "

We are organized and prepared to deal with a crisis, particularly a natural disaster," Rodriguez said. "Chile is a country where there are a lot of natural disasters."Calais, the geologist, noted that frequent seismic activity is as common to Chile as it is to the rest of the Andean ridge.

If you know Chileans, you know they have that inner warning system that made them jump out of bed and run outside as we shivered in our bed...