SANTIAGO – Feb. 27 will forever be a day that people remember in Chile. One of the strongest earthquakes ever to hit the country shook the central regions, devastating cities and causing a huge tidal wave. More than 2 million people were affected and 500 deaths were reported.
The 2010 earthquake is recorded as the fifth strongest to ever hit the region. U.S. scientists determined that the GPS of the town of Concepción, closest to the epicenter, moved three meters West, while Santiago shifted 27.7 centimeters West. A NASA computer also determined that the force generated by the subducting Nazca plate shifted the Earth’s axis sufficiently to shorten the day by more than a microsecond. Above ground, Chile was in chaos.
More than 2 million people were affected by the 2010 earthquake. Its force was felt as far as Buenos Aires in Argentina and São Paulo in Brazil. An estimated 1.5 million buildings were damaged by the quake and the subsequent tsunami, almost 400,000 of which were homes. It is thought that this number would have been significantly higher, were it not for the safety measure implemented in housing construction following the devastating quake of 1960.
The final death toll was listed as 525, 150 of which were victims of the huge tidal waves that swept the coastal towns and the Juan Fernandez Islands. Constitución, on Chile’s southwest coast, was hit by 50-foot waves, while the port of Talcahuano was damaged by waves up to eight feet high. The tsunami waves traveled across the Pacific Ocean at 450 miles per hour to reach New Zealand, Australia, Japan, California, and Hawaii over the following 24 hours. Although the waves had significantly reduced in size and force by the time they reached these destinations, certain coastal towns had to be evacuated and some damage occurred to buildings and the surrounding areas.
Maule, Biobío, and Concepción were affected the most by the earthquake, with large areas of Biobío left without water, gas, or electricity. Many large buildings in Concepción also suffered significant damage.
As a result of the limited access to food and power, cities such as Concepción suffered widespread looting of supermarkets and shops, which later escalated to nonessential goods such as televisions.
Santiago endured a week without power following the quake, and also a daylong blackout in mid-March as a result of damage to the national electricity grid and subsequent reconstruction efforts.
President Bachelet dispatched more than 10,000 troops from the Chilean army to affected areas to help with aid and to combat the ongoing looting and also requested foreign aid from the United Nations, the United States, the European Union, and several Asian countries. The relief efforts helped families who had been displaced, but it was many months before they could return to their homes again.
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.