Earthquakes in the Western Hemisphere

In the last six weeks, two major earthquakes struck the Western Hemisphere. The first leveled the city of Port-au-Prince, Haiti on January 12. The second occurred off the coast of Concepcion, Chile on February 27. While both of these events were life-altering for local residents and many others around the world, why does it appear that Chile’s earthquake had less of a devastating impact, even though it had a higher magnitude on the Richter scale?

Thumbnail image for haiti-1.jpgThumbnail image for haiti after the quake.jpgThere are several factors that set the earthquakes apart; plate tectonics is one. The Earth’s crustal plates slide, submerge, and travel in directions determined by convection currents of underground magma. In Haiti the plates slid horizontally against each other, creating the main impact point or “epicenter” of the quake at surface level in and around the city of Port-au-Prince.In Chile the oceanic plate, Nazca submerged under the Continental plate.The epicenter of that quake occurred an estimated 200 miles away from the coast. This type of tectonic movement is no stranger to Chile; the country experienced the most intense earthquake ever recorded in 1960, a magnitude 9.5 out of 10 on the Richter scale. Many experts believe that these reoccurring earthquakes explain why the citizens of Chile were more prepared and better trained to respond to last weekend’s event. In Haiti, on the other hand, residents lacked basic earthquake survival skills, such as knowing to find a door frame to stand in, or knowing to stay clear of glass windows. Having such survival information might have saved the lives of some, but the bigger picture rests in the overwhelming economic differences between the two countries.

In Haiti the government has struggled to provide even basic necessities for its citizens, and so building codes were perhaps not high on the priority list. Chile has enjoyed a more stable political climate in the last few decades, enabling the government to prioritize earthquake-resistant building codes. There are even stringent building codes for low income housing in Chile. I think that this made the biggest difference in the number of people who fell victim to each of the quakes.

 chile1.jpgThere were 200,000 lives lost in Haiti, and so many others remain to grieve and try to create
a new life and home. post chile earthquake.jpgIn Chile an estimated 700
people lost their lives, and millions more have been displaced without a place to call home. It is tragic to think of the lives that were lost within and around the buildings, and certain pictures have found a place in my heart and in my mind. Even though there were significant differences in the  economic, geologic, and geographic factors affecting the numbers of casualties, losing a loved one is always a unique, personal journey in itself. My heart and thoughts goes out to all involved in this piece of history.

If you have other questions or would like additional resources, here are a few websites to visit.

1. http://www.usgs.gov/

-Good site for a full understanding of earthquakes

2. http://www.ceri.memphis.edu/perc/

-This is a good educator resource

3. http://www.fema.gov/plan/prevent/earthquake/state_contacts.shtm#ca

-This is a state contact guide for emergency management

4.Other ideas- for specific information about the earthquakes in Haiti or Chile, there are several news articles or USGS has a link on their page for further details about the individual quakes.

Random side note, it is interesting to see how articles vary depending on the information on hand that day, keep this in mind if you decide to look through different sources. Also, if any one has a good website that I didn’t mention or a story linked to these events I would love for you to share. 

Sarah Evans from My Wonderful World

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