Laura Bliss is CityLab’s West Coast bureau chief. She also writes MapLab, a biweekly newsletter about maps (subscribe here). Her work has appeared in The New York Times, The Atlantic, Sierra, GOOD, Los Angeles, and elsewhere, including in the book The Future of Transportation.
A large tremor struck central Chile on Wednesday, but the country had learned from the past.
In Chile, at least eight people have died and one person is missing after an 8.3 magnitude earthquake struck the central part of the country Wednesday night. More than one million people have been evacuated.
Waves between 6 and 15 feet high rolled into Chile’s coastal cities following the earthquake, though tsunami warnings have since been lifted. Hundreds of thousands are without power, and about 1,800 in the city of Illapel have no drinking water. But according to reports, early signs suggest that the death toll will be much lower than Chile’s 8.8 earthquake in 2010, and a fraction of Nepal’s devastating 7.8 tremblor this April.
Chile is among the most seismically active places on the planet, and has recently poured millions into upgrading building codes, earthquake sensing systems and national warning and evacuation procedures. The earthquake there in 2010 was a wake-up call for officials to shift their approach to disaster preparedness: A large portion of the 525 people who died in that event were killed by the ensuing tsunami, for which the government had failed to issue a warning.
“The 2010 earthquake provided us with an enormous learning opportunity,” Helia Vargas, an official at Chile’s national emergency service, told the New York Times after an 8.2 magnitude earthquake hit the country in 2014.
On Wednesday, older buildings in some coastal cities did suffer severe damage and flooding, but the government was quick to issue tsunami advisories. Accustomed to large-scale quakes, people knew how to respond.
By contrast, in Nepal, a lack of building-code enforcement left the country extraordinarily vulnerable. "In a place like Kathmandu, a new building pops up every day which has not been built to code," Robert Piper, a former resident coordinator for the United Nations in Nepal told the Thompson Reuters Foundation. "Buildings kill people, not earthquakes." It was only in June that the country installed an earthquake warning system.
Today, abnormally large waves are expected along coasts in Mexico, Ecuador, Japan, Russia, New Zealand, and the U.S. In California, NOAA forecasters predict “strong currents or waves dangerous to persons in or very near the water” along the state’s southern and central shores early this morning, though major inundation isn’t expected.