Un­like Haiti, Chile was pre­pared on many lev­els

The Kansas City Star (Sunday) - - FROM THE COVER | - By FRANK BA­JAK

Death toll much lower be­cause of quake’s lo­ca­tion, pre­pared­ness of wealth­ier coun­try.

The earth­quake in Chile was far stronger than the one that struck Haiti last month — yet the death toll in this Caribbean na­tion is mag­ni­tudes higher. The rea­sons are sim­ple. Chile is wealth­ier and in­fin­itely bet­ter pre­pared, with strict build­ing codes, ro­bust emer­gency re­sponse and a long his­tory of han­dling seis­mic catas­tro­phes. No liv­ing Haitian had ex­pe­ri­enced a quake at home when the Jan. 12 dis­as­ter crum­bled the coun­try’s poorly con­structed build­ings.

And Chile was lucky this time.

Satur­day’s quake was cen­tered off­shore an es­ti­mated 21 miles un­der­ground in a rel­a­tively un­pop­u­lated area, while Haiti’s tec­tonic may­hem struck closer to the sur­face — about eight miles — and right on the edge of Port-au-Prince.

The U.S. Ge­o­log­i­cal Sur­vey said eight Haitian cities and towns — in­clud­ing this cap­i­tal of 3 mil­lion — suf­fered “vi­o­lent” to “ex­treme” shak­ing in last month’s seven-mag­ni­tude quake, which Haiti’s gov­ern­ment es­ti­mates killed 220,000 peo­ple. Chile’s death toll was in the hun­dreds.

By con­trast, no Chilean ur­ban area suf­fered more than “se­vere” shak­ing — the third most se­ri­ous level — Satur­day in its 8.8-mag­ni­tude dis­as­ter, ac­cord­ing to the Ge­o­log­i­cal Sur­vey. The quake was cen­tered 200 miles away from Chile’s cap­i­tal and largest city, San­ti­ago.

In terms of en­ergy re­leased at the epi­cen­ter, the Chilean quake was 900 times stronger. But en­ergy dis­si­pates rather quickly as dis­tances grow from epi­cen­ters — and the ground be­neath Port-au-Prince is less sta­ble by com­par­i­son and “shakes like jelly,” said Uni­ver­sity of Mi­ami ge­ol­o­gist Tim Dixon.

Sur­vivors of Haiti’s quake de­scribed ab­ject panic — much of it well-founded as build­ings im­ploded around them. Many Haitians grabbed ce­ment pil­lars, which crum­bled in their hands. Haitians were not schooled in how to re­act — by shel­ter­ing un­der ta­bles and door frames and away from glass win­dows.

Chileans, on the other hand, have homes and offices built to ride out quakes, their steel skele­tons de­signed to sway with seis­mic waves rather than re­sist them.

“When you look at the ar­chi­tec­ture in Chile, you see build­ings that have dam­age, but not the com­plete pan­cak­ing that you’ve got in Haiti,” said Cameron Sin­clair, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of Ar­chi­tec­ture for Hu­man­ity, a 10-year-old non­profit that has helped peo­ple in 36 coun­tries re­build af­ter dis­as­ters.

Sin­clair said he had ar­chi­tect col­leagues in Chile who had built thou­sands of low-in­come hous­ing struc­tures to be earth­quake re­sis­tant.

In Haiti, by con­trast, there is no build­ing code.

Pa­trick Midy, a lead­ing Haitian ar­chi­tect, said he knew of only three earth­quake-re­sis­tant build­ings in the West­ern Hemi­sphere’s poor­est coun­try.

Sin­clair’s San Fran­cis­cobased or­ga­ni­za­tion re­ceived 400 re­quests for help the day af­ter the Haiti quake but he said it had yet to re­ceive a sin­gle re­quest for help for Chile.

“On a per-capita ba­sis, Chile has more world-renowned seis­mol­o­gists and earth­quake en­gi­neers than any­where else,” said Brian E. Tucker, pres­i­dent of GeoHazards In­ter­na­tional, a non­profit or­ga­ni­za­tion based in Palo Alto, Cal­i­for­nia.

Their ad­vice is heeded by the gov­ern­ment in Latin Amer­ica’s wealth­i­est na­tion, get­ting built not just into ar­chi­tects’ blue­prints and build­ing codes but also into gov­ern­ment con­tin­gency plan­ning.

“The fact that the pres­i­dent (Michelle Bachelet) was out giv­ing minute-to-minute re­ports a few hours af­ter the quake in the mid­dle of the night gives you an in­di­ca­tion of their dis­as­ter re­sponse,” Sin­clair said.

Most Haitians didn’t know whether their pres­i­dent, Rene

rel­a­tively Preval, was alive or dead for at least a day af­ter the quake.

Eric Calais, a Pur­due Uni­ver­sity geo­physi­cist study­ing the Haiti quake, said seis­mic ac­tiv­ity is fairly com­mon in Chile. Chile ex­pe­ri­enced the stron- gest earth­quake on record in 1960, and Satur­day’s quake was the na­tion’s third of over mag­ni­tude-8.7.

“It’s quite likely that ev­ery per­son there has felt a ma­jor earth­quake in their life­time,” he said, “whereas the last one to hit Port-au-Prince was 250 years ago.”

On Port-au-Prince’s streets Satur­day, many peo­ple had not heard of Chile’s quake. More than half a mil­lion are home- less, and most lack elec­tric­ity and are pre­oc­cu­pied with try­ing to get enough to eat.

Fan­fan Bo­zot, a 32-year-old reg­gae singer hav­ing lunch with a friend, could only shake his head at his gov­ern­ment’s re­liance on in­ter­na­tional re­lief to dis­trib­ute food and wa­ter.

“Chile has a re­spon­si­ble gov­ern­ment,” he said, wav­ing his hand in dis­gust.

“Our gov­ern­ment is in­com­pe­tent.”

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