Residents throughout Chile searched through rubble salvaging whatever they could from their homes destroyed by a 8.3 magnitude earthquake in central Chile which killed 11 people, displaced 1 million from their homes and caused giant waves crashing into coastal areas.
Wednesday’s earthquake, the strongest the world has seen this year, was the most devastating one to hit the South American country since 2010. Nevertheless, some residents expressed relief that the destruction had not been more severe.
As a result of 15-feet waves slamming into the shore, the northern port town of Coquimbo was declared an emergency area by the Chilean government in an effort to streamline the provision of aid and to allow soldiers to instil security and prevent looting.
Remains of fishing boats littered the city streets while other vessels splintered and scattered throughout the bay.
“We lost it all. It was horrible,” said 79-year-old Hilda Zambra, whose home in Tongoy, south of Coquimbo, was ravaged by surging waters.
“I don’t know how I got out of there,” she said. “It was dark. I jumped into some stranger’s pickup truck. We left with what we had on our backs.”
According to government statistics, more than 179 homes were destroyed while 82,600 remained without electricity and 9000 without clean water. The homes of some 610 people were so damaged that that they were unable to return.
The government had issued evacuation orders in coastal areas after the earthquake struck, attempting to prevent a repeat of the 2010 quake disaster which left hundreds dead as a result of slow government response in warning them about a tsunami.
“We want to thank people for their cooperation, which allowed for a death toll that while unfortunate was not very high considering the strength of the earthquake,” President Michelle Bachelet told reporters.
The quake also shut down power in the worst affected areas of central Chile, though most buildings, roads, and ports managed to withstand the tremors. The quake was said to have been felt by residents as far away as Buenos Aires in Argentina.
Tsunami alerts were issued throughout the Pacific following Wednesday’s quake, from California to Japan and French Polynesia. In Chile, the tsunami warnings were subsequently lifted on Thursday morning.
In Illapel, some businesses began opening while some heavy machinery was dispatched to start clearing up the rubble.
One port used for exporting copper and other natural resources was shut down alongside three others, suggesting trade flows might be interrupted. The earthquake was yet another natural disaster which put a halt on copper mining in Chile, which accounts for a third of the global copper output. Earlier this year, northern Chile was hit by severe floods, while a volcanic eruption caused disruptions in the southern part of the country.
On top of this, some roads connecting the capital Santiago with the north remained cut off, making transportation difficult.
Due to its frequent earthquakes, the Chilean government had implemented strict building regulations to ensure that new buildings are able to withstand strong quakes. Nevertheless, many homes in Illapel and the surrounding area are simple houses that are more vulnerable to damage.
Chile is located in a highly seismic area where tectonic plates meet, making it prone to earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. In 2010, an 8.8-magnitude earthquake triggered a massive tsunami which caused the deaths of more than 500 people.