La Plaza

News from Latin America and the Caribbean

Category: Chile earthquake

New video: The incredible force of the Chile earthquake

Nearly a month after the Chile earthquake, a new video clip capturing the incredible force of the magnitude 8.8. quake has been made public. Watch above, from the 12th floor of a hotel in the city of Valdivia. Night-owl guests and workers struggle to remain standing as the buildings around them rock back and forth. Keep an eye on the swinging lamps in the upper portion of the screen. (Link via the blog Lat/Am Daily.)

In case it hasn't been made entirely clear how geologically significant the February quake was, NASA reports that the seismic event may have shorted the length of the day on Earth -- "by about 1.26 microseconds" -- and shifted the planet's axis -- "by 2.32 milliarcseconds (about 7 centimeters, or 2.76 inches)."

Several cities in Chile literally moved on the map after the shaking, notes Discovery News, citing research out of Ohio State University. Hard-hit Concepcion, for instance, moved about 10 feet to the west.

In The Times last Sunday, reporter Patrick McDonnell recounted the moving story of a firefighter and paramedic who lost his wife and daughter during the tsunami waves that hit Chile's coastal islands after the quake struck. "I thought for a moment that we were going to be spared, and we would have this story to tell when we were old," said Luis Gatica.

President Sebastian Pinera, responding to public anger at the lack of proper tsunami warnings after the quake, accepted an early-retirement recommendation for the captain in charge of the country's Navy Hydrological and Oceanographic Service. The story is in English at the CNN news blog.

Noted: Lat/Am Daily also posts on a growing batch of legal claims against the company behind a Concepcion residential building -- a new construction -- that split in two and collapsed during the quake.

-- Daniel Hernandez in Mexico City

Checking in on Chile: Pinera taps copper fund

Pinera chile

Chile is still actively recovering from the magnitude 8.8 earthquake of Feb 27. Roads, infrastructure, and the wine and oil industries continue to rebuild. On Thursday, the Justice Ministry announced a plan to declare any missing person officially dead if not found or accounted for 90 days after the quake hit. At least 500 people died in the earthquake or in the tsunami waves that followed.

To boost reconstruction in the most affected areas, newly inaugurated President Sebastian Pinera has decided to tap into the country's "rainy day" copper fund, The Times reports. From Chris Kraul:

Chile is among a few countries, including Norway and Kuwait, that have set aside funds generated by the sale of natural resources to act as a hedge against the vagaries of global commodities prices and provide a buffer to economic crises.

In Chile's case, the Copper Stabilization Fund, which totals about $11 billion, has been fed since the early 1990s mainly by profit from copper, the nation's leading export. Copper prices have tripled since 2003, benefiting the state-owned Codelco mining company, the world's largest producer and the principal contributor to the fund.

After being an active presence in the earthquake response effort even before taking office, Pinera was inaugurated last week as the first conservative leader elected since the end of the dictatorship two decades ago. During his inauguration ceremony at Chile's Congress in the coastal city of Valparaiso, a magnitude 7.2 aftershock struck, producing dramatic images of Bolivian President Evo Morales and Paraguayan President Fernando Lugo glancing nervously up to the ceiling.

Pinera, a billionaire investor (recently listed among Forbes' wealthiest), is facing public pressure to sell his shares of stock in LAN, Chile's national airline, as he promised to do. "The president could be involuntarily sending a message to young people, that it does not matter if you fulfill promises made in the public sphere. Is that what we call 'excellence'?" wrote Cristian Warnken, a blogger at the daily El Mercurio.

La Moneda, the presidential palace, has responded to the criticism by saying that Pinera's LAN interests are "not a government matter."

Online activism in Chile surged in the aftermath of the quake. On Facebook, more than 3,500 users have joined a group page dedicated to identifying firms that constructed new buildings that collapsed or were damaged beyond repair in the earthquake. Twitter users in Chile keep one another actively updated on aftershocks and pertinent information as recovery efforts continue.

One user, A_ndrea, tweeted on Pinera's inauguration day: "Sort of dizzy so much aftershocks."

-- Daniel Hernandez in Mexico City

Photo: Newly inaugurated Chilean President Sebastian Pinera. Credit: Agence-France Presse.

Chile earthquake aftermath: A look at Santiago

Chileyouth1 (2) 

There's been a sweeping outpouring of solidarity in Santiago with victims of the magnitude 8.8. earthquake in Chile's central-southern regions, as  reported in the L.A. Times. Chile's modern capital city was not as heavily damaged by the Feb. 27 quake as other more heavily affected areas, but its landscape and culture have been affected in subtle ways in the quake aftermath.

I've spent a week exploring the culture here, checking out interesting neighborhoods, riding the metro, watching the local news and reading a range of local newspapers. Residents tell me the city feels calmer since the quake. People dropped coins into collection boxes, hung Chilean flags from windows and balconies, and donated tons of food, clothing, and supplies intended for the victims.

In the press, psychologists are reminding Chileans that it is “OK to cry.” It's as though Chileans are still searching for ways to deal with the emotional and psychological aftershocks that come with a historically devastating seismic event.

“Before we were just staring at our bellybuttons, individualists, not knowing our neighbors,” said Catherine Mayozer, a television actress emceeing a rowdy benefit concert at Bustamante Park in downtown Santiago. “This has made Chileans speak to one another again, to speak on the streets, on the buses.”

The city has endured two to three major aftershocks a day since last week’s “megathrust” earthquake – and then some. A 6.4 earthquake hit to the north of the capital on Thursday night, followed by up to four considerable aftershocks between midnight and breakfast time on Friday.

More were recorded on Sunday, including a magnitude 5.0 temblor off the coast of Valparaiso. And then -- almost cruelly -- two more considerable aftershocks hit Santiago before dawn Monday, one measuring 4.9 and another measuring 5.1.

In all, nearly 200 aftershocks have rattled nerves in central Chile. Inside homes and apartment buildings, fresh cracks crawl across walls. Day after day, windows and lampshades rattle, walls buckle slightly, and floors sway gently for a few seconds, as if in a lilting breeze. The effect is dizzying.

“We get used to it,” said a gray-haired barber named Luis Baeza. “You control the fear.”

Baeza said he rode out the 9.5-magnitude quake in May 1960 – the largest ever recorded on the planet – as a child in his mother’s arms. He held his own son through the magnitude 8.0 quake of March 1985. And he watched his son hold onto his grandson through the recent big quake.

“In a month, everyone will build their houses just where they were,” Baeza said, shrugging. “That’s how we are.”

People in Santiago have responded with a range of complex emotions to the quake. There was embarrassment and shame at images of looting, which exposed, in the words of social scientist Claudio Fuentes Saavedra, "the two faces of Chile" -- the economic and social disparities that persist despite years of economic progress.

And there was anger at what's been called a tepid government response in the immediate aftermath of the quake, a fair share of finger-pointing, as well as the gallows humor that permeated conversations.

“Foreign friends visiting bars get surprised to see a popular drink called an Earthquake, which is just white wine and pineapple ice cream,” said Sonia Lira, a local columnist. “So, when kids in the bars want another round they holler ‘An aftershock is coming, why don’t you join me?’ "

The people of Santiago regularly visit the coastal areas that were severely damaged by the quake’s tsunami waves, making images of destruction from the Bio Bio and Maule regions difficult to bear, many said. The political ramifications of the quake were also challenging for regular Chileans.

The brutal military dictatorship of Gen. Augusto Pinochet ended just two decades ago. President Michelle Bachelet – who was herself held and tortured during the regime – came under criticism for not sending the military earlier to maintain order in the most affected regions. But the military also faced criticism for not alerting some coastal regions about a potential tsunami after the quake struck.

“I was conflicted about it,” said Selena Molina, 32, an anthropology student at the University of Chile, referring to the presence of soldiers on the streets. “But people needed order, and on top of that there was the riffraff who were taking things that weren’t necessary.”

“The thing is Chileans are used to having weapons around,” Molina added. “So without that, people had respect for nothing.”

Molina and a group of her friends were at a benefit concert at Bustamante Park. Night had fallen as it was winding down. Young people crowded the sidewalks and plazas above the underground Baquedano metro station, playing guitars, singing, chanting, holding aloft large bottles of Cristal, a low-cost Chilean lager that someone described as this country's "Budweiser."

It was one of the rowdiest, loudest concerts I've ever experienced -- and I've survived plenty of rowdy outdoor concerts living in Mexico City. Watching the scene I understood exactly what a young woman meant when she she said the event was like a "release" for Chile's youth, who will now be forever marked by the 2010 earthquake.

— Daniel Hernandez in Santiago, Chile.

Photo: Chileans attend a benefit concert in Santiago. Credit: Daniel Hernandez


Fear, despair haunt Chile coast


Barely a building remains standing in this once-pleasant beach resort that slopes up from Chile's Dichato Bay, a scenic cove largely shielded from the open Pacific.

The row of eateries and bars that once lined the shore are smashed to pieces. The central plaza is a pile of debris: splintered wood beams, bent metal roofs, dented gas tanks, fences, broken trees and kitchen appliances, among other objects. Fishing boats have been tossed a mile into town and beyond.

The magnitude 8.8 earthquake that struck Chile last week clearly caused a lot of damage, but here and in other coastal communities it was the ensuing tsunami that proved most destructive.

Residents in Dichato said the waves came ashore between the headlands over several hours, engulfing houses, boats, cars and everything else in their way.

Continue reading "Chile's coast haunted by fear, desolation" from Chris Kraul in Dichato.

Photo: A painting lies amid the ruins of a home in Dichato, a small beach enclave where 17 people died and as many as 50 are missing. Credit: Michael Robinson Chavez / Los Angeles Times.


Photos: 8.8 earthquake rocks Chile.

Chile earthquake: President-elect takes reins, though he's not in charge yet

Sebastian_pinera_chile A week before he takes office, Chilean President-elect Sebastian Pinera is already operating like a man in charge as his nation reels from one of history's strongest earthquakes. He is directing relief efforts, touring disaster sites, appointing Cabinet members -- and gently criticizing the way his soon-to-be predecessor has handled the disaster.

Pinera, 60, who is one of Chile's wealthiest investors, on Thursday noted what he found to be the "weaknesses, discoordination and deficiencies" in the quake response efforts led by outgoing President Michelle Bachelet.

"We will not be the government of the earthquake," the silver-haired Pinera said, speaking at his former campaign headquarters as he announced his appointments of officials to govern six of Chile's regions. "We will be the government of reconstruction."

It was lost on no one that his appointee to head the region surrounding hard-hit Concepcion, Chile's second-largest city, was that city's mayor, one of the most vocal critics of Bachelet.

Pinera will assume the presidency Thursday as the first conservative to lead Chile since the end of a brutal military dictatorship two decades ago.

Continue reading "Chile's Pinera takes reins, though he's not in charge yet" by Daniel Hernandez.

Photo: Chilean President-elect Sebastian Pinera tours a disaster site in Concepcion, one of many he has visited since the earthquake. Credit: Francesco Degasperi / AFP/Getty Images


Photos: 8.8 earthquake rocks Chile

Audio slide show: Photographer's report from earthquake zone Constitucion, Chile

Destination Chile: Two L. A. Times journalists hustle to the earthquake zone


Times staff writer Patrick J. McDonnell, a veteran foreign correspondent, scrambled to quickly get from Los Angeles to Chile to cover the massive earthquake that struck there last weekend. McDonnell and Times photographer Michael Robinson Chavez have spent the past few days on the ground reporting on the chaos and efforts to bring order and deliver aid. McDonnell filed the following dispatch on how the pair managed to get to Chile for the big story:

Sometimes, reporting on breaking news is almost as much about the logistics of getting to the location as actually getting the story. After all, if you can’t get there, what difference does it make how good the story is, or was?

It’s often a dilemma for reporters, especially those working abroad who repeatedly grapple with what many travelers see: capricious airplane schedules, unreliable airports and grumpy ticket counter personnel, among other hurdles. Disasters and wars multiply the challenge: Airports shut down, roads are closed, officials and travel bureaucrats go into a deny-access mode.

That’s a bit of background for a small logistics tale about covering the Chilean earthquake. A photographer colleague and I were tasked Saturday with getting to Chile to cover the big quake. Problem was, we were in Los Angeles, half a world way, or so it seemed. So how to get there as quickly as possible? We were already losing time compared with journalists based in South America.

Fortunately, we found a flight on LAN Airlines leaving about noon, nonstop to Lima, Peru. Normally, Lima is an ideal point from which to enter Chile. But the airport in Santiago, the Chilean capital, was shut down because of the quake. And so was LAN’s ticketing function.

From experience, I knew that American Airlines had a ticket-sharing relationship with LAN. American accepted our payment, and soon we were on our way to Lima, confident we would find a way into Chile, if not directly into Santiago, perhaps via Buenos Aires and overland through the Andes.

Sometimes a good break like this portends a string of good luck, I thought. Not so fast.

The chaotic airport in Lima initially offered no way out. No flights to Santiago. No possibility of getting on the overbooked flights to Buenos Aires. The traditional tools of charm, cajoling and even flashing some greenbacks didn’t seem to work.

The quake had sown disarray and turmoil. Stranded passengers had been waiting for days and were angry. A ticket salesclerk seemed to relish our anguish. He kept encouraging us to try different Internet and telephone methods, but in the end nothing worked. I wondered if he was playing with our heads, savoring his spoiler role in the logistics drama.

We spent the night in the airport, exhausting possibilities, going slowly mad. We seriously contemplated a route through Brazil, then Buenos Aires, then overland to Chile. Who knows when we would have arrived?

Desperate, we jumped on a flight to Tacna, Peru, on the border with Chile. From there we could cross the border into Chile in a taxi, and see if there was a plane going south from Arica, the Chilean border city. It didn’t seem very promising. We’d heard that no one was flying in Chile. Most likely, we’d end up having to take a 30-hour road trip through the Atacama desert, drier than the Sahara, they say, before even arriving in Santiago — still hundreds of miles of bad roads away from the earthquake zone.

The flight to Tacna detoured through Cusco, a lovely mountain city with pleasant hotels and first-class restaurants. I felt melancholy seeing the Inca capital disappear in the window as the plane lifted off for cheerless Tacna.

The border crossing was painless enough, and we found a genial taxi man, Andres, who knew how to cut corners. But the relentlessly harsh light and the gloomy milieu brought back memories of the Jordan-Iraq border crossing, a sinister place I had negotiated many times. This didn’t seem promising. The airport at Arica, on the Chilean side, looked like it had been left over from the dawn of aviation, preserved somehow in the dry heat. Missing were any sign of aircraft, or people.

We trudged into the terminal, sure that this was an exercise in futility. All the LAN counters were closed. But we noticed a few folks huddled at a side counter of Sky Airline, a regional carrier. We ambled up to the counter. A woman, apparently a passenger, passed by carrying a boarding pass for … Santiago!

Outside, beyond our view, an old Boeing workhorse was getting ready to take wing south to the Chilean capital. Yes, the woman at the counter said, there might be room for two more. Remarkably, completely unexpectedly, it all turned out to be true. Ten minutes later — a stop for a soft drink or a cigarette — and we would have missed this unscheduled flight, our deliverance, the freedom bird, as my colleague christened it. We boarded a near-full flight that was making final preparations to take off. It was like stepping into some alternate reality zone. Once aloft, we watched the narrow ribbon of an endless road south that we had fortuitously avoided. We were in Santiago in three hours.

It was time to start covering the devastation of the earthquake and a tsunami that followed, wreaking havoc. 

More logistical challenges lay ahead.

-- Patrick J. McDonnell in Concepcion, Chile

Photo: The city of Constitucion, Chile, was hit hard by the earthquake and a tsunami. A store near the Plaza de Armas was little more than a pile of rubble. Credit: Michael Robinson Chavez / Los Angeles Times.

More of the Times coverage of the Chile earthquake:

Chile sends army into post-quake chaos

"Run! Run! Maremoto!" Tsunami!

Chile scrambles to distribute aid, quell disorder

Rescuers search for Chile quake survivors; death toll jumps to 708

Audio slide show: Photographer's report from earthquake zone Constitucion, Chile


Chile earthquake: Army arrests curfew violators, more bodies recovered

Chile_quake The Chilean army, enforcing emergency decrees aimed at containing widespread looting, arrested scores of people Monday for violating an overnight curfew as the country reeled from the weekend's devastating earthquake.

The death toll climbed to 711 as more bodies were pulled from the ruins of cities and towns hardest hit by the  magnitude 8.8  quake.

Faced with outbreaks of looting in Concepcion, just 70 miles from the quake's epicenter, President Michelle Bachelet deployed 10,000 troops to restore order and assist in the recovery of bodies and search for survivors.

She slapped a dusk-to-dawn curfew on Concepcion, Chile's second-largest city. Most of the city's quarter-million residents seemed to heed the warning, remaining in their homes or makeshift camps overnight. But about 150 people were arrested for violating the curfew, officials said.

Deputy Interior Minister Patricio Rosende downplayed reports of roving mobs and vigilantes in suburbs around Concepcion.

Continue reading In quake aftermath, Chile's army arrests curfew violators, more bodies recovered by Patrick J. McDonnell and Tracy Wilkinson from Santiago, Chile, and Mexico City.

Photo: A man pushes a coffin. Victims' bodies are lined up at a gym in Constitucion, Chile. Credit: Roberto Candia / Associated Press.


Photos: 8.8 earthquake rocks Chile.

Chile earthquake: Southern California's Chilean community organizes to help quake victims

Southern California's small but tightknit Chilean community scrambled Sunday to contact loved ones affected by the magnitude 8.8 earthquake that struck their homeland Saturday, and began organizing to help victims.

"We have a lot of anguish," said Jorge Rojas, 44, whose family is from Talca, a region hit hard by the quake, which was centered offshore of the southern city of Concepción. "You can't see your family. You can't even talk with them."

Rojas' San Bernardino group, Club de Huasos, which celebrates Chilean cowboy traditions, planned to meet with the consul general Monday to ask how club members might help. The group is small, Rojas said, but "if we can do anything to help them, I'll be happy."

Continue reading Southern California's Chilean community organizes to help quake victims by Paloma Esquivel.

Chile earthquake: Clinton says U.S. ready to work 'in solidarity' with leaders of Chile

Clinton U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Monday the United States is ready to work "in solidarity" with the leaders of Chile to provide disaster assistance to the earthquake-stricken country.

Speaking to reporters while traveling in Montevideo, Uruguay, Clinton said the Chileans had asked for communications equipment and said she'd be bringing some with her when she traveled to Santiago Tuesday.

Clinton said more will come after that, adding that "one of the reasons they have asked me to continue my trip is to assess whatever else they might need and immediately begin the process of providing it."

Earlier, U.S. Ambassador Paul Simons said he knew of no American deaths from the earthquake but stressed that officials were having a difficult time getting information from Concepcion, the area most devastated by the quake.

Continue reading »

Chile earthquake: U.N. readies aid for Chile after receiving government request for help

Chile_quake The United Nations says it will rush aid deliveries to Chile after the government asked for help in its recovery from this weekend's massive earthquake.

U.N. humanitarian spokeswoman Elisabeth Byrs says Chile officially made its request Monday, two days after the 8.8-magnitude quake struck about 200 miles south of the capital, Santiago, and killed more than 700 people.

Byrs told the Associated Press that the global body was now "ready to take action." Before the request, international aid groups had sent some funds and experts. But their action was limited as Chilean officials were busy assessing the destruction from the earthquake and the needs of up to 2 million affected people.

-- Associated Press

Photo: A resident walks amid debris in Constitucion, Chile. Credit: Roberto Candia / Associated Press

Recommended on Facebook


In Case You Missed It...

Recent News
Introducing World Now |  September 23, 2011, 8:48 am »
'Twitter terrorists' freed in Mexico, charges dropped |  September 21, 2011, 7:03 pm »
Freedom likely for Mexico's 'Twitter Terrorists' |  September 21, 2011, 11:00 am »



About the Reporters
Ken Ellingwood
Daniel Hernandez
Efrain Hernandez Jr.
Chris Kraul
Richard Marosi
Tracy Wilkinson