By now most Casual Kitchen readers are well aware that Laura and I are in Santiago, Chile for a few months to study Spanish, and thus we were right here when Saturday morning's severe earthquake occurred. This off-topic post is for those readers interested in more details from our experiences during and since the quake.
A few thoughts on the media and how deeply disappointed we've been by coverage of the quake here: It took two days for most media outlets to distinguish what happened here in Santiago from the more seriously damaged towns of Concepcion, Talca and other areas to the south.
Some news stories contained disturbing inaccuracies: an example that stands out in our minds was a Reuters story from a Saturday that mischaracterized Santiago as severely damaged. Another example: CNN-USA reported late Saturday morning that Santiago was without power, but in direct contrast to CNN's claim, one of the employees at our Spanish language school here in Santiago was in his office at the time watching that report on a live feed from his computer!
In reality, power was back on for most of the buildings in Providencia relatively quickly, within four or five hours. I guess a reporter from Atlanta who didn't check his facts must know better than the people on the ground here.
And because earthquake stories are always accompanied by obligatory photos of rubble and destroyed buildings, many people back home received the deeply inacurate impression that there was severe devastation here in Santiago.
The real story was how amazingly well Santiago weathered what turned out to be one of the most powerful earthquakes in history. The damage here was trivial, given the size of the city (Santiago's population is some 6 million) and the severity of the quake.
We heard that a bridge and a parking garage collapsed in the city, and a very old church right here in Providencia had half of its cupola collapse. Otherwise, damage was shockingly limited. We took a walk around town the day after the quake and saw a few broken windows and shattered street lamps, and some damage to the facades of a few buildings.
If we hadn't lived through the quake the night before, we'd have thought that a strong storm had hit and nothing more. You'd never guess that one of history's most powerful earthquakes had just struck. And the fact that our brains were still ratlled and scrambled from the night before made the lack of damage seem surreal.
However, the truly severe damage was in communities some 6-7 hours' drive south of here, in smaller cities such as Concepcion and Talca. Also there were some coastal communities that received a double-whammy from both the quake and quake-related ocean swells. These communities are where your thoughts, prayers and assistance should go, not Santiago.
Keep in mind: Chile is a really long and skinny country--in fact, the distance between the northernmost and southernmost points of Chile approaches the distance between New York and California. Fortunately, over the past day or so, most of the major news outlets apparently consulted Google Maps, got their crash courses in Chilean geography, and have since straightened out their stories.
One final thought: If you think this country is like Haiti or like many of the poorer countries in Central or South America, think again. Chile is a relatively rich country, with GDP per capita in the top third globally (GDP per capita here is more the ten times Haiti's in fact). Further, this country has building codes and infrastructure that rival the most advanced cities of Europe and North America.
That's why a earthquake that was 500 times the power of Haiti's quake caused surprisingly little damage--despite the fact that it struck a huge and densely populated city. I don't think it's an exaggeration to call that a miracle.
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Posted by Daniel at 3:55 AM on Tuesday, March 02, 2010