SANTIAGO – Feb. 27 will forever remain a day that people remember in Chile. One of the strongest earthquakes to ever hit the country shook the central regions, devastating cities and causing a huge tidal wave. More than two million people were affected and 500 deaths were reported.
Following the immediate relief efforts of the government, a large-scale rebuilding in the Maule and Biobío region began. The government funded the rebuilding of 200,000 houses and 3,000 schools in the affected areas, and more than 50,000 provisional homes had been built by June 2010 to house those displaced by the earthquake. A year later, many people were still living in these temporary houses as the coastal areas struggled to recover. In July 2013, the government reported that 74% of the planned homes had been rebuilt, aiming to finish the rest by June 2014. For those displaced, it was a slow and arduous process that left many frustrated and demanding compensation. Regarding the infrastructure of the affected areas, repairs to highways, airports, electricity, and power stations were largely completed by July 2013.
Most relief aid came from Chilean and international NGOs, which donated US$51 billion to the recovery efforts. The government invested around US$9 trillion in rebuilding infrastructure and business, receiving around US$8 trillion from insurance companies.
In the wake of the damage to major buildings, especially in the city of Concepción, the government implemented various construction regulations to avoid similar damage. These precautions were to prove fundamental in reducing the impact of the 8.2 magnitude earthquake in April 2014.
After various investigations into the response of several authorities responsible for monitoring seismic activity and tsunami alerts, it was discovered that the Hydrographic and Oceanographic Service had dismissed the tsunami warnings. It even attempted to alter the logbooks in an effort to obscure the mistake. As a result, eight officials were charged with negligence and for failing to notify residents, and US$236,300 was paid to the 104 families who lost members in the tsunamis. The government was also ordered to compensate victims’ families with US$2.7 million.
Preparation for the Future
To reduce the future risk of similar catastrophes, various measures were taken to help prepare communities in high-threat areas. In Valparaíso and Viña del Mar, multiple tsunami evacuation drills took place that helped to safely evacuate around one million residents after the 2014 earthquake and tsunami. The Hydrographic and Oceanographic Service and tsunami watch teams received better training, with particular emphasis on tsunami warnings for civilians. These measures helped improve response times and crisis management.
The 2010 earthquake left many families devastated by the loss of loved ones and homes. The reconstruction of Chile’s coastal towns and regional infrastructure took years and required billions of dollars. Yet, society also learned valuable lessons in crisis management and response which helped to reduce the impact of future earthquakes and tsunamis. The development of earthquake-proof buildings has also attracted international interest, such as Japan, who also wish to improve their infrastructure.
Katie is a student from Exeter University where she is studying English Literature and Spanish. This year she is interning with Chile Today as part of her year abroad in Latin America. She believes in the importance of a global newsroom which spreads the news of the world to every corner and gives voice to the people.