Chile 8.8: Earthquakes and How We Tell Them

Dear CF,

An 8.8 earthquake hit Chile early this morning. I wrote about the narratives surrounding earthquakes and tsunamis a week before Haiti happened—in fact, I wrote about the Great Chilean Earthquake, a whopping 9.5—and for all my impersonal curiosity about how these stories get told, I find myself waiting anxiously now to hear from family in Santiago and Viña del Mar.

The Chilean newspaper servers seem to be down. When I go to Google.cl (the Chilean Google site), the top story on El Mercurio is eerily irrelevant, about a conscript, Víctor Alejandro Cañones Echeverría, who got drunk and drowned into the Calle Calle River. The sources reporting on the quake are not the big papers (El Mercurio, La Tercera, La Segunda), which all seem to be down, but BBC Mundo.

Here are some things we know from the ragtag first-person accounts BBC stapled together into a story (these stories—that someone’s television crashed onto the floor in a hotel—will get remembered, if only because they were the first ones we heard):

  • As usual, the number is what we know first: 8.8. With five aftershocks so far, each over 6.0 in magnitude.
  • I’ve said that the more terrible metrics come later. So far, 76 confirmed dead. Not bad! one is tempted to say, before one kicks oneself for making those sorts of judgments.
  • The lamps and televisions on the 19th floor of the Crowne Plaza hotel came crashing onto the floor, said Marco Vidal. Then everything started oscillating from north to south.
  • The quake lasted 90 seconds.
  • An apartment building collapsed onto itself, smashing 50 cars parked underneath it, so all you hear is the muffled sirens of car alarms in the rubble.
  • Several hospitals have been evacuated.
  • President Bachelet is incredibly calm about the whole thing.
  • Chile, like California, is earthquake country. Many or most buildings are retrofitted. People can take quakes in stride.
  • That doesn’t mean all is well—several less cosmopolitan regions are totally cut off, so no one knows the extent of the damages.
  • The airport is damaged and closed.
  • Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Hawaii and many Pacific Islands are on high alert for a tsunami that may be headed there this very minute.

That’s it. That’s all I know so far. It’s a maddeningly young story. In a few hours the newspapers will be back on their feet. In the meantime, I’m staring at my Facebook feed in the absurd expectation that a social networking site will confirm both that Jackie successfully bred a Farmville pet and that my family is (oh marvelous cliche!) alive and well.

Fondly,

M

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