Poor Chile. What a bad rap it gets sometimes.
As a seismically active country, Chile has its fair share of tremors (“temblores” as they’re called here) and they occur almost every day in any given area. Granted, they’re not all major quakes, but regardless of how “big” they may be, the fact remains that there are tiny earthquakes each and every day here. It’s part of our everyday life and if you are thinking of visiting or living here, you need to KNOW this is an everyday occurrence.
The latest earthquake was actually a “replica” or an aftershock and it occurred on April 2nd in Iquique, coming in at 7.6 on the Richter scale. The reason this aftershock was considered as such and not a full blown earthquake is because on April 1st the northern part of Chile was rocked by a magnitude 8.2 earthquake … i.e. anything less than that is obvi an aftershock (so it would seem).
Anywhere else in the world the 7.6 aftershock would have been labeled a full blown earthquake and a state of catastrophe would have been issued. Anywhere else in the world, half the city (or more) would be a crumbled mess and chaos would ensue for weeks, if not, months. Back in February 2010, I wrote about my experience living through an 8.8 earthquake here in Chile. The aftershocks of that earthquake were NUMEROUS and the strongest one, if I remember correctly, was somewhere between 6.5 and 7 on the Richter scale.
Like some people back home wonder, you’re probably also wondering: “How can you live there? It’s like you’re constantly stressed out wondering when the next big one is coming! No thanks!”
I’ll use five words to try and explain how this is possible …
It’s part of life here.
Allow me to further explain because those five words obvi don’t provide much solace to anyone wishing to visit – or worse – anyone who finds themselves having to move down here for whatever reason.
Recently an article was published about this same issue and the title is pretty clever considering Chilean’s reactions to so many earthquakes: “Why don’t Chileans run when there are earthquakes?” The article goes on to state many reasons and (if you read Spanish) I think it’s worth a read because it gives you a glimpse of what the culture is like in general in response to a natural disaster such as an earthquake.
In the almost five years I’ve lived in Chile, I’ve experienced more earthquakes than I ever did in the 29 years living in the San Francisco Bay Area (the largest and ONLY earthquake was in 1989) and they’ve ranged anywhere from 4-pointers to almost 9!! That’s a whole lotta shakin’ and through it all I’ve learned that my own reactions have begun to mirror the reactions of true Chileans who have lived here their entire lives.
When the earth starts shaking here, the first reaction is, simply, wait it out. True story. You sit and wait to see if it’s going to stay tolerable or if it’s going to get bigger. Most of the time it stays within a reasonable range and by adopting this “wait it out” policy, you spare yourself the embarrassment of doing the weird things people do when they freak out. I think this, combined with the fact that Chileans grow up with earthquakes and earthquake drills in school, makes it seem like Chileans are unfazed by earthquakes. That’s not the case. I know that earthquakes are scary and most Chileans will tell you that they don’t like them, but they’ve learned to live with them mainly because they’re part of everyday life here.
Also, if you have to live with earthquakes, there really is no better place than Chile, architecturally speaking. Chile has some of the strictest building guidelines EVER! Need proof? The 2010 earthquake that struck Léogâne, Haiti caused over 100,000 deaths and annihilated a great part of the affected area’s infrastructure. That earthquake measured 7.0 on the Richter scale. In comparison, the structural damage caused by the most recent earthquake in Chile (remember, it measured 8.2) a few days ago is minimal in comparison.
That doesn’t mean that Chile hasn’t learned lessons along the way. As mentioned, in 2010 over 500 people died mainly because the President of Chile, Michele Bachelet, and her advisors, didn’t give evacuation orders in a timely manner (most people died in the tsunami that hit post earthquake.) I guess you can say that this time around the dear President (the same one!) and her peeps were overly cautious and as a result, gave evacuation orders almost immediately! Hence, despite Chile’s most recent natural disaster and the destruction it caused, the death toll remains at six.
So come on down to Chile. Frolic, run and be free. Have a grand time because when the ground shakes (and it wiiiiilllllll) just know that you’ll most likely be ok. Just do as the locals do and you’ll be fine. You know – blend.