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Chileans Survey Earthquake Damage, Count Their Blessings

Updated Mar 02, 2010
Chileans Survey Earthquake Damage, Count Their Blessings

Last update March 2 at 2:50p.m.

As floodwaters recede, Chileans are confronting the greater devastation facing their country after Saturday's historic earthquake. 

Chilean officials estimate that Tuesday afternoon's confirmed death toll of 763 people will probably rise. Still, the numbers are unlikely to come anywhere close to the devastation wrought in Haiti after its 7.0 earthquake in January, according to the New York Times

The widespread devastation from the 8.8 magnitude earthquake includes downed bridges, buildings, phones lines and power and water outages, news media report. The Wall Street Journal reports that most deaths occurred in the Maule region. The earthquake's epicenter struck about 70 miles  from Concepción, Chile's second-largest city. 

Data from the U.S. Geological Society indicates that the earthquake, which struck about 200 miles southeast of the capital city of Santiago, may be the fifth largest earthquake ever recorded.

CNN reports that Chilean President Michelle Bachelet is reconsidering offers of international help in light of the scope of the damage. 

"We are facing an emergency without parallel in Chile's history. The passage of time has demonstrated that we're facing a catastrophe of unforeseen intensity," she said, as reported by CNN. 

Powerful aftershocks, including a 6.3 magnitude, continue to shake the affected areas. Many residents are avoiding buildings and opting to sleep in their cars instead, according to the Boston Globe, wanting to avoid potentially unstable buildings. 

The New York Times reports that rescue crews and aid groups alike have delved into the disaster, searching for survivors amid downed apartment buildings in Concepción. Police have tried to maintain order and minimize looting of non-essential items like TVs and other electronics, while allowing frightened residents access to food staples and water. 

"It's very slow, dangerous work, because on top of it all, it's still shaking there," said Victoria Viteri, a spokeswoman with the national emergency office in Santiago, according to the New York Times. 

In more remote coastal towns, help has been slower to arrive. The Wall Street Journal reports that widespread flooding flung trees and cars into residences and carried them farther inland, complicating efforts to survivors.

The Washington Post reports that repairs and rebuilding will cost tens of billions of dollars, experts say. 

Yet the devastation could have been much worse, according to the Washington Post. Building codes in Chile are followed more strictly than in Haiti, where the majority of buildings in Port-au-Prince were leveled. 

"We would have expected that an 8.8 earthquake would have done a lot more damage," said Paul Caruso, a geophysicist with the National Earthquake Information Center in Golden, Colo., according to the Washington Post. "The people in Chile have experience with earthquakes that saved hundreds if not thousands of lives." 

Many tsunami warnings went out within half an hour of the quake, the Associated Press reports, potentially saving hundreds of lives. 

Relief group World Vision is already mobilizing to reach Chile, despite difficulty reaching their staff in the country. 

"This quake will not be like the one in Haiti,"said Steve Matthews of World Vision's global rapid response team. Matthews and other top relief experts are coordinating early plans for World Vision's response in Chile from Haiti and the Dominican Republic, where the aid group continues to respond to the massive quake in Haiti last month. 

"Haiti was concentrated and that led to the challenge of tons of aid and hundreds of aid workers being sent into a small zone. This quake off the Chilean coast has potential to reach remote areas and thus it will be extremely difficult to assess the number of deaths and amount of damage, but we can expect that children and families will have taken the brunt of it." 

According to Samaritan's Purse, Chile has a history of devastating earthquakes, including the most powerful one ever measured, a 1960 quake that measured 9.5 and killed several thousand people. By comparison, the earthquake that killed over 230,000 people in Haiti Jan. 12 measured 7.0. Each increase of one point represents 32 times more intensity.


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