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Chile's Massive Quake

Relatives and firefighters search for people missing in Concepcion, Chile, on Sunday, Feb. 28, 2010, after an 8.8-magnitude earthquake that struck Chile early Saturday. (AP)

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Earthquake time again. This one — one of the very biggest in a century — striking Chile before dawn on Saturday, 8.8 on the Richter scale.

Two million Chileans reported forced from their homes. Seven hundred dead, and the number’s rising.

It’s a hard toll, though nothing like the 200,000 dead in Haiti. There is a tale of two countries here. One desperately poor. Another, Chile, seen headed for first-world status, with good building codes.

There is also a tale of two earthquakes. And a spate of quakes.

This hour, On Point: Chile’s big quake, and a seismologist’s take on what’s going on.


Joining us from Menlo Park, Calif., is Jian Lin, senior scientist in geology and geophysics at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. He’s now at the U.S. Geological Survey’s National Center for Earthquake Research, in California, pouring over the data from Chile. He has studied the 1960 Chilean earthquake and the recent quake in Haiti.

Joining us from Santiago is Jorge Schaulson, former member of the Chilean Congress and Speaker of the House of Representatives from 1990-98 with the Party of Democracy. He is now a columnist and attorney in Santiago.

Also joining us from Santiago is Pascale Bonnefoy, Chile correspondent for the international news site Global Post. She lost a relative in the quake and has just returned home from the funeral.

Joining us from Miami is John Price, Managing Director for Business Intelligence at Kroll Associates, responsible for Latin America.

More links:

See the American Red Cross for information on the response to Chile’s earthquake.

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  • Jeffrey L

    Something else we need to understand about the Richter scale is that each “point” on the scale represents a 32 fold increase in energy released. So a magnitude 8 earthquake is around 32 times more powerful than a magnitude 7, and around 1000 times more powerful than a magnitude 6.

  • Dr Phil Kousoubris

    Even Yellowstone recently had a new swarm of earthquakes, and most people seem to think there’s an increased number of significant in size earthquakes due to Haiti and now Chile (not to mention 2009 activity).

    Could the new solar cycle and its associated (CME/flare) activity somehow be interacting with the earth’s magnetic field and ferrite core, influence increased earthquake activity?

  • npr friend



    if not mentioned already

    Have good day, be well.

  • http://ibelieveinbutter.wordpress.com Soli

    Can you ask your guest to possibly give some resources about what he said re: the effects of global warming on earthquakes?

  • Betsy Cowan

    Thank you for doing this program on Chile! I lived in Chile for four years and worked with World Vision Chile, where we responded to several disasters, but none of this magnitude. Thank you for getting information out both about the amazing resiliency of the people and the infrastructure of that country, which prevented greater destruction, but also of the level of damage and devastation particularly in the South.
    I have been speaking with friends and colleagues in Santiago and most are ok, although some have lost homes–some apartment buildings in Santiago collapsed and are inhabitable.
    Many friends and waiting for news from family in the South, and there is no way to communicate.
    World Vision Chile staff is responding in coordination with the local government, identifying needs (particularly in the poorer areas where the destruction is higher) and distributing resources.
    Chile is known for its solidarity in the face of disaster and will recover from this disaster. I still can’t believe that the country I love so much has suffered this level of destruction.
    Thank you!

  • Hector Malave

    Hi Tom. When talking about seismic issues and dangers in the United States, please do not forget Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands and Guam as locations of great seismic activity. As part of the United States, these territories are in great danger due to seismic and tsunami activity. The urban areas of Puerto Rico are particularly vulnerable due to the high population density and the large number of high rises (particularly in the San Juan metropolitan area). More information is found at http://earthquake.usgs.gov/earthquakes/world/index.php?regionID=20, http://earthquake.usgs.gov/earthquakes/world/guam/guam_history.php, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_and_dependencies_by_population_density, etc.

  • nayade carinao

    I am Chilean leaving in The States, I have kept with Chilean news through the website below, where they also do twitting. Here is the link for those who want to know or post questions to find out about their missed relatives/friends http://www.ustream.tv

  • Elizabeth Works

    Thank you for covering the earthquake. I am from Chile, my family is still there, i have not talk to them yet , but I hear from a friend in facebook that they are ok. Scare but well. They do not have water , electricity or gas. I am heartbroken for what happended but also proud of how my country has handle the emergency. And proud of how the people react, we are teach at school what to do in earthquake, we have so many and that is why people survive. Keep praying.

  • jim

    Regarding the quality of construction in the United States (vis a vis earthquake protections for one), the building codes are generally very good. However they are not well enforced.

    Until the economic downturn devastated the construction industry, I was employed as a fire sprinkler designer. In late 2008 I made inquiries about the enforcement of sprinkler system building codes, or more specifically the lack of reliable enforcement. I was initially encouraged – there were two state employees who were very helpful and we worked out some ideas for how to improve enforcement of building codes. The official who was responsible for major elements of code enforcement created a draft document based on our discussions, and set a schedule for implementation – approximately a month later (the end of 2008).

    A month passed and I inquired about what was happening, and learned that he had left his position. His successor agreed to continue pursuing the previous initiative. He did not do so. I followed up with other state employee who had been very helpful. She seemed distressed, and soon thereafter left her job as well.

    There were four measures that I had suggested were simple, strong indicators of adherence to code generally. One of the four was seismic bracing of sprinkler piping. Without this bracing, it is quite likely that sprinkler piping will be damaged by a severe earthquake – the kind that happens every 250 years in the Boston area (more or less). The last such quake was in 1755.

    The reason that I targeted this particular area in sprinkler design and installation is that it is very common for seismic bracing to be only partially installed. In many cases is eliminated altogether. And since I was laid off from my design job, pricing for sprinkler installations has dropped precipitously. I believe that it is reasonable to surmise that seismic bracing is even less often installed now than it was.

    As a result of all this, I believe that there is great reason to be very concerned about fire following a major earthquake in the greater Boston area.

  • http://www.aidg.org Peter Haas

    Having been running teams doing ATC-20 rapid and detailed structural reviews in Haiti all I can say is the Chillean people owe a great debt to thier government for having implemented the standards and dedicated resources to build out properly suited antiseismic construction. The problems I see in our photos of Haiti are common in seismically active zones where I have worked and travelled, Guatemala, the Dominican Republic, Thailand. If this had happened elsewhere there would have been at least tens of thousands dead from collapse.

  • david

    The U.S has declared co2 a hazard to health and contributor to global warming. Now we have a senior scientist in geology and geophysics relating global warming to earthquakes. Some money hungry lawyer will now think up away to sue the U.S. for causing the earhquakes due to our part in global warming. I would not put it past them.
    I pray for the people of Chile and hope they can survive this odeal.

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