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Be Prepared

February 26, 2010

Rheanna Sand

Science in Seconds Blog by Rheanna Sand

Another massive earthquake has shaken the Americas, this time in the South. Chile was struck overnight with an intense 8.8 magnitude quake in the Pacific Ocean near the port of Concepcion.

To put it into scale, this quake is a thousand times more powerful than the one to hit Haiti in January. A thousand times stronger than one that killed an estimated 230 000 people. And yet the death toll in Chile has reached only 147 people so far. What made the difference?

In a word: preparedness. Being situated along the Pacific Ring of Fire, Chile calls itself a "seismic country" and has developed an effective network of seismic experts, emergency responders, building code regulators, and citizens who are well educated on earthquakes.

Apparently this area was due for a big one, as the Nazca tectonic plate has been sliding under the South American plate at a rate of 80mm per year. This makes for a very seismically active region, but the last major quake to hit this area was in 1835, famously witnessed by Charles Darwin during his travels on the Beagle. French and Chilean seismologists knew this one was coming, and say it fills in a major "seismic gap" they had observed in the record.

In both quakes, buildings collapsed, infrastructure was damaged, and lives were disrupted. But in Port-au-Prince, a city of about a million people, one in every five people died. In Concepcion, one in every 1700. That is the difference preparedness can make - preparedness that cannot happen under the continual exploitation experienced by the people of Haiti.

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