On August 23, 2014, central Chile was hit by a 6.4 earthquake, affecting the Viña del Mar, Valparaíso and Santiago metropolitan areas. The epicenter was in the coastal, industrial town of Ventanas, about thirty kilometers north of Viña del Mar. Probably over 10 million people felt a strong quake. According to newspaper reports, the shaking lasted up to forty seconds, causing damage and a tall building fire. While the tsunami warning was discarded, suffice it to say coastal residents of Chile immediately think about tsunamis after any sizable earthquake. Read the news reports from Valparaíso, San Antonio, Santiago (El Mercurio and Las Últimas Noticias), Valdivia and Iquique.
My wife considered it far stronger than the usual tremor and was surprised that the Richter magnitude was so low. The length of time of the shaking also bears an important role in both perception and actual damage, and this earthquake lasted a relatively long time. The photos in the newspapers the next day show goods thrown off store shelves and other minor damage. There was a fire in a tall apartment building and at least one home moved down the hillside nearly two meters. In addition, there were isolated gas leaks and some temporary power and phone service outages.
Two days later, on August 25, 2014, Napa and the San Francisco area of California (an equally populous area) were hit by a 6.0 quake that shook for 18 seconds. The damage in California was far greater than in Chile, not only stuff falling off store shelves but also gas lines breaking and facades of buildings collapsing. People in Chile considered the quake to be a large tremor. In California, the news services called it a “massive quake”—even though four times less powerful than the one in Chile and only shaking for half the time. Things in California would be out of commission for “days” according to reporters. The government in California declared a “state of emergency” in the aftermath for the “largest quake to hit California since 1989.”
According to CNN (with live video footage during the quake), CBS and Fox News, there were 172 people injured and extensive damage to buildings, cracked roadways, “fires sparked by burst gas lines,” broken pane glass, and crumbled walls with bricks landing on parked cars.
Ruptured water mains were reported to be, “hampering firefighters’ efforts to extinguish the blazes.” In Napa itself, wineries and historic buildings were damaged, “sending dozens of people to hospitals.” CBS News added, “Dozens of homes and buildings across the Napa Valley were left unsafe to occupy, including an old county courthouse, where a 10-foot wide hole opened a view of the offices inside.”
In Chile, the next day all was back to normal. (Did the Chilean quake even make the U.S. or European news?) Note that the level of destruction in California did not happen in Chile. There were no serious injuries or massive devastation like in California. The only effects in common were a building fire and the emptying of store shelves.
Other First World countries have not fared well in similar magnitude quakes in recent years. In late May 2012, two “major earthquakes” (5.9 and 5.8 Richter scale) and two strong aftershocks (5.2 Richter scale) hit the Modena area of northern Italy, toppling buildings and killing 26 people. On February 22, 2011, Christchurch, New Zealand was hit by a 6.3 Richter scale earthquake that did extensive damage and killed 185 people, half of which died when a six-story TV news building collapsed. The city’s buildings had been weakened by the Canterbury (7.1 Richter scale) earthquake in 2010. The image above (source) shows a cracked roadway in New Zealand after the 2011 earthquake. These earthquakes were horrible tragedies.
However, central Chile’s buildings are frequently “weakened” by tremors and even big quakes as well (including very big ones in 1985 and 2010), but they do not fall as those did in New Zealand. So which country is better earthquake prepared: the United States, Italy, New Zealand or Chile? I think the evidence is clear. In Chile, I feel safe. In other “First World” countries, I worry.