While aid organizations continue to support relief efforts in Haiti, some attention has now been diverted by the 8.8-magnitute earthquake which struck Chile on February 27, 2010. As with Haiti’s tragedy, many organizations are accepting donations to benefit relief efforts in Chile via text message, and individuals have banded together on Twitter and Facebook to request help locating loved ones, provide updates, and share information.
Experts, including Sergio Barrientos, science chief of the Seismology Institute of the University of Chile, indicate that this quake was 50 times bigger than the one that killed thousands and destroyed much of Haiti’s infrastructure on January 12, 2010. Richard Gross, a geophysicist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, indicated that the force of the quake was in fact so strong that it affected the Earth’s figure axis (the axis about which the Earth’s mass is balanced) and caused the length of the day to be shortened by 1.26 microseconds. Compared to Haiti’s relatively shallow earthquake which occurred just 8.1 miles below the surface of the earth, the depth of Chile’s recent quake was 21.7 miles. This increased depth, which allowed some of the quake’s energy to disperse, and Chile’s strict building codes lessened the earthquake’s potential to cause more serious damage.
According to the National Emergency Office, 795 individuals have died as a result of the earthquake, and the 40-foot tsunami and 131 aftershocks of magnitude 5 or greater that have followed. Chilean President, Dr. Michelle Bachelet stated that it is likely that two million people were affected in some way by the recent earthquake. Many lost family and friends, and an estimated 500,000 homes sustained considerable damage, according to reports from the Chilean Red Cross.
Efforts for locate and rescue survivors are ongoing, and it is expected that, as seen in Haiti, medical and rehabilitative care will be needed by many. Information regarding the number of individuals injured or displaced by the earthquake and the aftershocks and tsunami that followed is not yet available. Though current counts of individuals killed or injured are substantially lower than following Haiti’s earthquake, these figures are expected to rise as reports indicate that as many as 500 individuals are still missing in Constitución alone. In addition to the earthquake itself, which hit most strongly in six central regions of Chile, substantial loss of life and damage to infrastructure is due to the subsequent tidal wave which submerged fishing towns on the coast of south-central Chile. More than 20 boats were swept ashore in the port of Talcahuano, and rescue workers have located over 300 bodies in Constitución. Access to drinking water, food, electricity, and other supplies to many towns in these costal areas, including Bio Bio and Concepcion, have been disturbed, leading to tension and looting in some areas.
Amid civil unrest in areas with destroyed highways and collapsed bridges, the spread of disease and the delivery of healthcare is also a concern. According to UN Humanitarian spokeswoman Elisabeth Byrs, Chile’s government has identified its emergency needs as temporary bridges, field hospitals, satellite telephones, electric generators, damage assessment teams, water purification systems, field kitchens, and dialysis centers. While reports indicate that the health network in northern Chile is operating normally, in the south access to heath services has been disrupted by the collapse of six hospitals and damage to two others. To provide some assistance, the United Nations will be sending 45 satellite phones to Chile for officials coordinating relief efforts, and is prepared to send 30 tons of food and other aid. U. S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has indicated that the United States will offer “not only solidarity but specific supplies” to help Chile recover. Aid from the U.S. will include 62 satellite phones, eight water purification systems, and a mobile field hospital with surgical capability. Argentina has already sent medical supplies including three tent hospitals, water processing equipment, medications, and satellite telephones to Chile. Other nations including Canada, which has pledged $2 million to support relief efforts, and Singapore, which will supply $50,000, have also offered contributions. In addition to the need for facilities and supplies, the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO)/WHO noted a shortage of healthcare personnel and has assembled an emergency response team of 80 trained specialists.
As the outpouring of support for Chile begins, governmental agencies, non-governmental organizations, aid organizations, and individuals face the daunting task of coordinating their relief efforts and some areas are still awaiting support. It remains unclear how many individuals have been affected by the earthquake, both directly and indirectly, but it is of great import that they get the care and assistance they need.
Find out about how the iCons in Medicine teleconsultation program can help following natural disasters and what iCons in Medicine and the Center for International Rehabilitation are doing to ensure the provision of rehabilitation services in Haiti.