Massive Earthquake Hits Chile

“Shell-shocked Chileans struggled to deal with the aftermath of a massive 8.8-magnitude earthquake that ripped through the southern half of the country early Saturday morning,” the Wall Street Journal reports. The quake damaged roads, buildings, telecommunication services, and cut power. “At least ten aftershocks hit the region in the hours after the initial quake – felt 2,000 miles away in Sao Paulo, Brazil – and waves that swelled more than six feet above their normal height battered the country’s long coastline, according to the U.S. Geological Survey,” according to the newspaper (Fick et al., 2/28).

While rescue crews worked near the epicenter of the quake, Chilean President Michelle Bachelet said the current death toll was at 708, the Baltimore Sun reports. “These numbers will continue to grow,” she said (McDonnell/Wilkinson, 3/1).

According to the Associated Press/New York Times, “[e]fforts to determine the full scope of destruction” have been thwarted by the aftershocks. “Officials said 500,000 houses were destroyed or badly damaged, and President Michelle Bachelet said ‘a growing number’ of people were listed as missing.”

“In the hard-hit city of Concepcion,” almost all the supermarkets “had been looted – and no food or drinking water could be found. … Electricity and water services were out of service,” the news service writes. Bachelet “said Chile needs field hospitals and temporary bridges, water purification plants and damage assessment experts – as well as rescuers to help relieve workers who have been laboring frantically since … Saturday.” She added that authorities would supervise the free distribution of essential items from major supermarkets in an effort to prevent more looting. Military troops and police will also give out food and water, according to Bachelet (2/28).

Aid Groups Respond

Meanwhile disaster relief groups had to negotiate the challenges of aid delivery to Chile “while maintaining full-throttle operations in Haiti,” the Los Angeles Times reports in an article looking at various aid groups’ response to the earthquake. Dealing with two earthquakes “should not be a problem for large organizations such as the International Committee of the Red Cross, which have the resources to send emergency responders and humanitarian aid to a number of hot spots. But the same may not be true for smaller groups whose focus is on long-term rebuilding efforts,” the newspaper writes (Roan, 2/28).

According to the Wall Street Journal, “Chile’s needs may not be as severe as Haiti’s. Though the strength of the quake in Chile was greater … the country appears to have sustained far less damage to both life and property. In addition, according to many aid organizations, Chile is more accustomed to earthquakes and has strengthened construction codes so that buildings can better withstand tremors. They also say that because Chile is a far more prosperous nation than Haiti – the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere – its government has resources to respond effectively” (Dade, 3/1).

Aid groups “are awaiting a request of assistance from the Chilean government, which has declared a state of emergency but not formally asked for aid,” the Wall Street Journal reports in a second article examining the response from international organizations. “Most groups say they are accustomed to responding to multiple disasters at once, particularly in the last couple of years: a cyclone in Myanmar and earthquake in western China in May 2008; Typhoon Morakot in southeast Asia, a tsunami in American Samoa and an earthquake in Indonesia between last August and September,” according to the newspaper (Dade, 2/28).

U.S. Response

On Saturday, President Barack Obama said the U.S. “will be there” if Chile requests aid to deal with the earthquake, the AP/KSTP TV reports. “The United States stands ready to assist in the rescue and recovery efforts and we have resources that are positioned to deploy should the Chilean government ask for our help,” he said (2/28).

State Department spokesperson P.J. Crowley said that U.S. urban search and rescue teams from Los Angeles and Virginia are available to help and could be in Chile in a “matter of hours,” writes. Crowley also said the U.S. Embassy is offering its assistance to the Chilean government (2/27).

This week, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton will embark on a scheduled trip to Chile despite the earthquake, Reuters reports. A “senior U.S. official” on Sunday said Clinton would stop in Chile on her Latin American tour “as planned, though we might change what we do there” (Quinn, 2/28).

The five-country trip, “which begins Monday and is meant in part to address regional tensions,” could “be overshadowed by the response to Chile’s earthquake” and other U.S. foreign policy issues, the New York Times writes. “Mrs. Clinton is expected to stop in Santiago, Chile, on Tuesday to meet with President Michelle Bachelet and President-elect Sebastian Pinera,” the newspaper reports.

“State Department officials said Chile, which has its own sophisticated emergency response agency, was not likely to need anywhere near the level of assistance being provided to Haiti. But they said they expected Chile to request United States support for a field hospital and satellite communications equipment,” according to the newspaper (Thompson/Barrionuevo, 2/28).

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