The Chile Quake: How Bad Will the Damage Be?

Will it be better or worse than Haiti? Mitigating factors and areas of concern

This article is from the archive of our partner .

The massive 8.8 earthquake that struck central Chile today was even stronger than the 7.0 earthquake devastating Haiti in January. Will the damage and disorder be as bad?

  • No: Worse Earthquake, Better Infrastructure  This quake was "1000 times more powerful, I'm hearing," reports progressive blogger Matt Yglesias, "but fortunately looks like it will be much less devastating thanks toa Chile’s vastly superior infrastructure, government capacity, and general level of wealth."
  • But Will It Weaken the Government?  "As Philip Bobbit argues in his book Terror and Consent," observes Marcelo Ballve at True/Slant, "a natural disaster is tantamount to a terrorist attack in that it challenges the legitimacy of the state. Haiti's quake showed up the weakness of the government." Of course, he notes, echoing Yglesias's point, Haiti "is the hemisphere's worst-off country, with the weakest state." Chile, by contrast, "has in the last 20 years earned a reputation for having Latin America's best-organized and efficient government." He wonders how it will "[meet] this test."
  • What I'm Worried About  At Firedoglake, Ruth Calvo suspects the houses she helped build in Chile with Habitat for Humanity are still standing. Yet she fears for the Santiago archaeological museum, "a priceless collection of pre-Columbian art and mementos ... The building itself is of stone," which she implies is more vulnerable in an earthquake. Aside from the museum, Calvo recalls downtown Santiago being filled with "many-storied buildings," with, "ominously ... supermarkets on the bottom floor." Here's her description of two other towns:
In Valparaiso and Vina del Mar, seaside towns that we visited, the hills rise up from the shore, and older buildings built of stone are interspersed with funiculars, to climb the steep hills. Houses are built one above the other, rising up the hills, around the shore. Shopping centers are formed by several stories of stores, with stairways winding up through the stores through several layers. A tsunami has hit Valparaiso, where the docks are full of ships and old stone buildings, and a seaside cafe that has particular appeal – that I hope wasn’t destroyed.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.