Differences Between The Haiti And Chile Quakes
NEAL CONAN, host:
This is TALK OF THE NATION. Im Neal Conan in Washington.
One of the most powerful earthquakes in recorded history hit just outside of Concepcion, the second-largest city in Chile, on Saturday. Officials estimate it displaced more than two million people. More than 700 are reported dead. Damage is already estimated in the tens of billions of dollars, and those numbers are almost certain to be revised upwards as more information comes in.
As staggering as all that is, it's nowhere near as bad as the recent earthquake in Haiti. Some of the differences are due to the type of quake and the distance from big population centers, but some of it is preparation. Why and how do some countries prepare better than others?
Later in the program, a journalist who writes about exotic animal trainers on the lessons from the death of a trainer at Sea World last week.
But first, the earthquake in Chile, and we'd like to hear from Chilean-Americans in our audience about what you've heard from your friends and relatives back home. Give us a call, 800-989-8255. Email us, firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also join the conversation on our Web site. Thats at npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION.
We begin here in Studio 3A with Eliana Loveluck, born in Concepcion and spent some of her childhood there. She still has family friends in that city, and Eliana Loveluck has been kind enough to join us here in Studio 3A. Thanks very much for your time.
Ms. ELIANA LOVELUCK (Director, Center for Consumers, The National Alliance for Hispanic Health): Not at all. Thank you. I appreciate the opportunity because it is it's hard to feel such helplessness being here and being so far away.
CONAN: And have you been able to get in touch with your family?
Ms. LOVELUCK: We have. We spent a very uneasy Saturday attempting to call and email, and we had no word until Saturday night. We heard from one of our cousins, who was able to give us the status of all of our family members, and thankfully, they are all okay.
CONAN: Well, I'm glad to hear that. Regrettably, that's not true of anybody. What could what have you learned about the situation there in Concepcion?
Ms. LOVELUCK: Well, what I've learned is that it appears that as each minute goes by, people seem to be in greater shock. I think that at the beginning, clearly everyone knew it was a very devastating earthquake, but it just seems to become worse and worse as times go by, in terms of realizing what the destruction has been, the level of destruction.
And I think, also, there is tremendous sadness and concern over the fact that for the last several decades, the government has attempted to really prioritize social policies and deal with issues of eradication of poverty, and so much of that has been destroyed within a matter of about a minute and a half.
CONAN: Generations of work.
Ms. LOVELUCK: Yes, absolutely.
CONAN: Tell us, you grew up - at least part of your life - in Concepcion. What's it like? What's the city like or was it like, I guess?
Ms. LOVELUCK: The city I find to be a beautiful city. There is a major university there, the University of Concepcion, and both of my parents taught there. I have incredibly fond memories of Concepcion. It has become the second-largest city in Chile, but when I lived there, it was not so highly populated.
I think I also love it so much just because of so many childhood memories and just wonderful, wonderful moments in my life, including a short period of time in 1972, when I went to high school there.
CONAN: We look at the map of Chile and think everything must be on the sea and between the sea and the mountains.
Ms. LOVELUCK: Well, it certainly does appear that way. One of the wonderful things about being in Chile is that you can always see the Andes Mountains, and you're never very far away from a beach.
CONAN: You were a little girl when another devastating quake hit that part of the world.
Ms. LOVELUCK: That is correct. This was 1960, and I was in Concepcion. Interestingly enough, my parents were in Europe. So we were with my grandmother and my grandfather, my nono and my nona.
And I have childhood memories, the memories of a child who probably has some memories that are very much in my own head but also perhaps some suggested by adults sharing stories with me later.
Ms. LOVELUCK: But what I do remember is that it was the middle of the night, and we were all sleeping, and I remember waking up to just this tremendous motion, unsure of what was happening. My sister slept next to a bookshelf, a very large bookshelf that held my father's books, and the books were falling everywhere and on top of her, and I was just amazed because she just didn't wake up. She loves to sleep.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Ms. LOVELUCK: There was what we call an estoufa(ph), it's a gas heater, in the hallway, and it has it's pierced with holes all over it, and I just remember seeing the shadow of that heater moving and swaying and wondering what was going on.
My grandfather was actually pinned against the wall. The bed, which was a fairly large bed, actually moved during the earthquake and pinned him between the bed and the wall. So they had a little bit of difficulty getting out of the room.
Our kitchen fell in. The floor just caved in, and I remember being terrified of going back into the kitchen, thinking that that hole was just going to swallow me up at any moment.
And one of the things and this of course is not in any way comical, but I think is a testament to how children deal with trauma. My mother tells me that when she got back and by the way, their journey back was harrowing. It took them more than a week to return. They had to come back by ship, and there were no cell phones and no phones. So it was very traumatic time for them.
But she commented to me last night that my sister and I actually invented a game. It was called the earthquake game, (foreign language spoken), and we would reenact everything that had happened, and obviously it's a way of getting through the trauma, but that I don't remember.
CONAN: If you have questions about this earthquake in particular, and we'd like to hear from the Chileans in our audience. If you've been able to get through to your people back home and tell us how things are going for them, 800-989-8255. Email us, email@example.com.
And Eliana Loveluck, I know you've been eager to find out even more about your friends and family. Thank you so much for spending some time with us today.
Ms. LOVELUCK: Not at all. Thank you again.
CONAN: Eliana Loveluck, with us here in Studio 3A, telling about her childhood in Concepcion, Chile. She now works at The National Alliance for Health. Richard Harris, NPR science correspondent, also with us here in the studio. Richard, always good to have you on the program today.
RICHARD HARRIS: Good to be here.
CONAN: And the earthquake that Eliana was talking about, known as the Great Chilean Earthquake. Maybe we're going to have to have ones and twos now.
HARRIS: Yes, although that was still the biggest earthquake on record. That was a 9.5, and nothing has surpassed that in recorded history, at any rate. Presumably, over the eons, there were greater things than that, but in terms of actually getting instruments to measure, that was even much larger than this one.
CONAN: And these are logarithmic. So the distance, the difference in power between an 8.8 and a nine-point it's enormous.
HARRIS: It is enormous, yes.
CONAN: These are as we think about what happened in Chile excuse me, in Haiti only a seven, considerably less powerful, but again a different type of quake, and location, location, location.
HARRIS: Absolutely. There are several really substantial differences, one of which is the Haitian earthquake was only a seven. And when you look in terms of how much energy is released in a seven compared to an 8.8, actually the energy from an 8.8 is like 500 times as much. It's just astonishing the difference between these earthquakes.
The difference, though, in why the quake in Haiti was so incredibly damaging was two-fold, one of which was that the epicenter of that quake was very, very close to Port-au-Prince, and as a result, there were two million people who were within incredibly violent shaking area of that.
And, of course, the buildings were not at all engineered to stand up to earthquakes. So not only was there violent shaking, the buildings just were not build to handle any shaking at all, really, and that was a serious problem.
CONAN: And if we again go back to the great Chilean quake of all those years ago, one of the lessons learned was about building construction and codes, and the importance of obeying those codes.
HARRIS: That's true and not only that quake, but Chile has had numerous reminders. There was something like more than a dozen earthquakes of seven or higher since 1973 along the coast of Chile. So there are constant reminders that this is earthquake territory, and absolutely, that has made a difference.
It also helped that this quake, as close as it was to Concepcion, about 70 miles, that's still much, much farther away than the Haitian quake was, and so the ground motion was - the most intense ground motion actually was mostly out to sea, and that helped also.
CONAN: Let me also ask you about the kind of earthquake. This is, as I understand it, these are all tectonic plates, as they shift the Nazca plate in the eastern part of the Pacific, South Pacific, slipping under the South American plate.
HARRIS: That's right, and that also makes a huge difference because compared to, for example, the quakes we're familiar with in California or in Haiti, those are called strike-slip, where you have plates sort of slipping past each other laterally, one moving relative to the other but sort of staying on the surface.
This is called a thrust fault, in which case the Nazca plate is diving down underneath the South American plate, and that means you have a much larger area of destruction, and the potential for great quakes is much, much higher on this. We saw that - the Indonesian earthquake in 2004 was another one of these kinds of quakes. In fact, some of the biggest ones in the world tend to be this kind of one plate sliding under another. It has the potential to release so much more energy.
CONAN: Richard Harris is going to stay with us in the studio to take questions about this kind of quake. The tsunamis that did and didn't manifest. A lot of the damage in Chile due to tsunamis that hit fishing villages - almost wiped out a lot of places that were shaken first and then washed away by these waves.
But Eliana Loveluck is still with us here in the studio. I wanted to ask you a question about these building codes. Is this a part of Chilean culture?
Ms. LOVELUCK: It is. In Chile, we grow up knowing about earthquakes, being told what to do in different situations. I always grew up knowing that if I was at the beach, and I saw water receding, I needed to run the other way because the water was coming back.
But I think what is very important to acknowledge is that Chile has always had a very strong infrastructure, and it has a very well-functioning government, and that infrastructure is prepared and constantly being reassessed in terms of preparedness for dealing with earthquakes.
The other thing that I think is very important to also acknowledge is that Chile is a country with very little corruption. It actually scores very close to the United States, and so it is not a country where you can go and bribe a builder to overlook the codes or anything like that.
And Chileans take great pride in that, and Chileans also take great pride in the fact that they have tremendous solidarity. I would say solidarity is a value for our country, probably a value for all Latinos or Hispanics. And so there is also tremendous cooperation and helping everyone out.
CONAN: Can you do us a favor? Can you stay with us to talk with your fellow Chileans when they call?
Ms. LOVELUCK: More than happy to.
CONAN: Eliana Loveluck will also stay with here in Studio 3A. So if you have questions about the quake, and again, we'd like to hear from people who have family in Chile. How are they doing? What are you finding out? Give us a call, 800-989-8255. Email us, firstname.lastname@example.org. Stay with us. I'm Neal Conan. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.
(Soundbite of music)
CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. Im Neal Conan in Washington.
The earthquake that struck Chile over the weekend measured 8.8 in magnitude, much more powerful that flattened much of Port-au-Prince in Haiti but also much deeper underground, much further away from larger cities.
No amount of planning can change the geography of earthquakes, but damage can be mitigated by building better, through planning, engineering and enforcement. More about that as we go along.
Richard Harris is with us, NPR science correspondent. Also with us is Eliana Loveluck, who lived through the Great Chilean Earthquake or the Valdivia earthquake. Am I pronouncing that correctly?
Ms. LOVELUCK: You are.
CONAN: Okay, in 1960 and is with us here in Studio 3A. She now works at the National Alliance for Hispanic Health.
And we'd like to hear from Chileans and Chilean Americans in our audience about what you've heard from your friends and family back home, 800-989-8255. Email us, email@example.com. And let's go next to Josephina(ph), Josephina with us from Beaufort, South Carolina. Josephina, are you there? Josephina? Josephina has moved on with us. In any case, let's see if we can go next to this is Chad(ph), Chad with us from Lakewood in Colorado.
CHAD (Caller): Well, thank you for taking my call. I have a simple question. I hope it's simple, and I'll wait for my answer, or response, offline, but I was wondering if there's any relationship between the Haiti and the Chilean earthquake because of the close timeframe.
CONAN: Coincidence, Richard Harris?
HARRIS: Well, that is a contentious issue among seismologists. The general rule is that if a quake is within 1,000 kilometers, which is about 600 miles, it's possible that one big quake can trigger another.
These are, however, on completely different fault zones in completely different continental plates, and so the glib answer is no, there's no connection at all.
However, there are scientists looking into these because there are enough of these coincidences over the years that people are starting to take a second look and ask these questions: How can big quakes be related to other big quakes?
So it's an excellent question, and I think scientists are trying to answer it. Right now, they say hmm, I can't see anything, but we're looking.
CONAN: Let's go next to Rissa(ph), Rissa with us from Boulder, Colorado.
RISSA (Caller): Yes, hi.
RISSA: Am I on the air?
CONAN: You are.
RISSA: Okay. Well, we actually were just in Chile visiting three weeks ago and stayed with some friends. We had hosted a high school exchange student, and we went to visit them and stayed in their home in Concepcion, and we haven't been able to get any information or hear from them. And so we're, you know, we're very worried.
CONAN: Obviously, and the exchange student is now in Concepcion or is with you in Boulder?
RISSA: No, in Concepcion. We hosted a few years ago, and we just were there in their home visiting in Concepcion, visiting him and his family. So we're hoping they're okay.
CONAN: And what was the city like when you visited?
RISSA: Well, the whole country is just beautiful, and you know, everybody was so warm, and we got such a nice reception, and it's just hard to believe the pictures that are you know, we're just looking at our photos from our trip, and you know, the city doesn't look anything like that now. It's hard to believe.
CONAN: No, it's strange that your family pictures are now the before picture.
CONAN: Yeah. I wonder, Eliana Loveluck, you've been through this experience. The resilience of people must be extraordinary as they learn to live with these continual shocks.
Ms. LOVELUCK: It is. I think that resilience comes from experiencing these kinds of earthquakes over and over again, but I would go back to the point I was making earlier about solidarity. The people of Chile have a great spirit of solidarity. In times of disaster, that only grows. And there is a strong sense of the need to collaborate, to bring every single possible aspect of society and individuals together to rebuild, to help each other out.
I know that already, there are groups of students that are going down to the south to help with the relief efforts, with rebuilding efforts. There is, I think, going to be a very, very large response on the part of the people to just do whatever they can.
CONAN: Joining us now from the studios of WBFO, our member station in Buffalo, New York, is Andre Filiatrault, the director of the Multidisciplinary Center for Earthquake Engineering and Research at the University of Buffalo. Nice to have you with us today.
Mr. ANDRE FILIATRAULT (Director, Multidisciplinary Center for Earthquake Engineering and Research, University of Buffalo): Nice to be here.
CONAN: And I know that you have also been to Haiti, as indeed our correspondent, Richard Harris, here in the studio, has been in recent weeks. And what to you accounts, besides the distance that we've talked about of this quake from population centers, what accounts for the relatively low death count in Chile, do you think?
Mr. FILIATRAULT: Well, I think these two events are quite striking in differences. In Haiti, obviously you were dealing with the poorest economy in the Northern Hemisphere, and basically, no building codes were enforced in Haiti at all. So the construction is more ad hoc, you know, sort of family traditions and so on.
And as you mention, you know, the distance from the earthquake was very close. So the intensity of the shaking was relatively large in Port-au-Prince.
In Chile, the difference is striking from the point of view that there, you have the strongest economy in Latin America, and they have had, you know, building code. They have a National Institute of Normalizations that enforce building codes, very much like Eliana was describing.
And it seems from the preliminary reports we're getting, I mean, this made the entire difference, where really buildings were designed with earthquake engineering in mind, seismic design philosophy implemented in Chile. And you know, the vulnerable buildings are often the older building stock, the buildings that have not been designed according to modern provisions and so on.
While in Haiti, even you know, except a few exceptions, even modern constructions, they were still without any kinds of philosophy or any kinds of knowledge behind them in terms of seismic design. And I think you have...
CONAN: Interesting we have a question on that point from Jonathan(ph). I heard an interesting comment on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED regarding the reconstruction effort in Haiti. Basically, structures needed to be built resistant to both tropical storms and earthquakes. It left me wondering if the devastation caused by the earthquake was intensified because the predominate construction model there was heavy, cinderblock, concrete structures well-suited to withstand a hurricane or tropical storm, very vulnerable to an unexpected earthquake.
Did the fear of frequent hurricanes and the infrequency of earthquakes in Haiti possibly have more to do with the devastation rather than general shoddiness of construction?
Mr. FILIATRAULT: Well, it's a good point. Haiti, even currently in the reconstruction process, you have to look at it with what we call the multi-hazard situations, where not only going forward you're going to need to design better buildings that sort of resist earthquakes, but you also had to, as you mentioned, you know, worry about other hazards, essentially wind.
Now, traditionally, you know, for wind, what you're trying to do is put heavy roofs, for example, or using heavy materials to prevent the buildings from overturning or structure from overturning due to wind.
For earthquakes, if you introduce heavy materials, heavy roofs of cinderblocks and so on, these create masses. The earthquakes forces comes from the inertia. So it's when you have masses that you're going to have forces.
So definitely, this has contributed to it, but however, from what I've seen on the ground when I was there, the quality of the construction was very poor: poor materials that was used in terms, for example, of concrete, you know, the material that they put the sand and so on, may not have really been the best quality, very few cements, you know, in the material they've been using and also we should say the reuse of damaged materials.
I mean, when we were in Haiti, we saw several instances of basically, you know, people just trying to recycle old, you know, reinforcing bars that have been in collapsed buildings for potentially reusing them in other construction, which obviously is, you know, an approach that is not acceptable.
CONAN: I want to ask you both, meaning Richard and you, Andre Filiatrault, a question. Obviously, Haiti, the poorest country in the Americas, Chile the strongest economy, as you mentioned, in Latin America.
There's an awful lot of countries around the world that have experiences with earthquakes that are on different ends of the scale. You have Turkey, Iran. You have obviously in Asia, Japan has a very strong construction codes and again also a very strong record for lack of corruption.
Is it simply a matter of poverty, in your experience, that causes one country to build more safely and prepare better for the future than the other.
HARRIS: Well, I think that's clearly a big part of it. I also think that it's true that Haiti was the the last really significant earthquake in Haiti was well over 100 years ago, and I think that there was just not a mindset about earthquakes in Haiti at all. So yes, poverty, people were just getting by as best they could, and often the best wasn't very good. Whereas places like Japan and Chile, and of course the Western United States, you know, there's a clear history of earthquakes, and people know they can't afford to just forget about it.
CONAN: Andre Filiatrault?
Mr. FILIATRAULT: Yeah, I fully agree with what Richard is saying. I mean, when a country is sort of barely functioning, you know, prior to the earthquake, like Haiti, really having all kinds of political problems and issues, I mean, earthquake-resistant design becomes sort of lower on the priority scale of the government of the country. Coupled with the fact that, you know, even the earthquake that Richard is referring to in 1812 - I'm sorry, 1842 in Cap-Haitien - was not even really reported. I mean, it was not publicized, and only people locally knew about this earthquake. The previous largest earthquake in Port-au-Prince dated back to 1750.
So, you know, without this history, this constant reminding and all the troubles that the country has gone through over, you know, several centuries now, earthquake engineering is sort of low on the scale. And also the knowledge about earthquake engineering design is fairly recent. I mean, it's associated with development of better models, computers and so on. And this information has not been passed on effectively to even Haitian engineers.
When we were there in January, we met several engineers in Haiti, and even themselves are unsure about what, you know, how to really build earthquake-resistant buildings. So there's a tremendous effort, I think, and education that is required in Haiti to, you know, make an efficient reconstruction -while in Chile, it's a complete different situation. I mean, I have many colleagues in Chile, very competent structural engineers.
Actually, I just heard this morning from two of my previous - our previous PhD students who are from Chile - they're okay now. But - so when, you know, students travel abroad, go to, you know, very good institutions, get all the knowledge, come back to their country, that makes a tremendous difference. And so I agree with Richard with (unintelligible).
CONAN: Speaking of history, we have this email from Laurent(ph) in Ames, Iowa. Saturday's magnitude 8.8 occurred exactly 175 years to the month after and in the same part of Chile as the great earthquake of February 20th, 1835, which Charles Darwin experienced and wrote about in Chapter 14 of his "Voyage of the Beagle." He called the devastation in Concepcion, quote, "the most awful yet interesting spectacle I have ever beheld" - well, a geologist. He noted that not a house was standing and that a great wave, tsunami, had almost destroyed the port.
We're talking about what happened in Chile and what didn't happened and why. Our guests Eliana Loveluck, who grew up in Concepcion, at least part of her childhood, Richard Harris, NPR science correspondent, and Andre Filiatrault, the director of Multidisciplinary Center for the Earthquake Engineering and Research at the University - State University of New York at Buffalo. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.
And this another email from Stan, forwarding this email from his friend, Ernan(ph): Hey, everyone. Here I am in Chile, doing well. Just one of the kids got hit by a falling brick from a building as he was coming out actually at a disco, but he's doing okay. The most amazing thing, though, is the extension of the area hit by the earthquake, in addition to its magnitude and duration. It was as if you'd had an earthquake hitting from San Diego to San Francisco. But Chile's well prepared for earthquakes, pretty much. Things in Santiago are already back to normal. There's no damage in our house at all. Just a few things fell and broke. We have all the utilities running. The streets are all cleared. The worst hit in Santiago was the airport terminal, a couple of bridges, and the new turnpikes and a couple of new buildings which seem to be damaged. It's going to be expensive to rebuild, but I don't think it will be crippling for the country.
Let's see if we can go next to the phone. And this is Rosa, Rosa calling us from Minneapolis.
ROSA (Caller): Hello.
ROSA: Thank you for having me on.
CONAN: Go ahead, please.
ROSA: Yes. Well, I heard about the earthquake my aunt, who called me. She lives in Santiago, and she actually broke the news to me, which is kind of funny. She called at quarter to seven...
CONAN: Oh, is it one of those, I'm calling to say we're fine. And you say, we're fine? What happened?
(Soundbite of laughter)
ROSA: Exactly. I'm just felt, like, really? And I said, well, I haven't turned on the radio. I was just sort of getting up. And she was very shook up. She said it was really, really, really scary.
And, you know, every Chilean knows this. It's just like we grew up with earthquakes. I have been to - in - I have been to several myself, and none as big as this. Although in the 1960 earthquake, I was two months old, and so I heard about it from my parents and other people, as well. We had a maid who actually really got trapped in the earth as the earth opened and basically trapped her...
CONAN: Oh, my gosh.
ROSA: ...for, like, three days. And she was terrified of earthquakes.
CONAN: I can imagine.
ROSA: We sort of grew up with this culture that you - they always happen in the middle of the night, so I don't know why that is. But we were told that you get dressed, you grab your valuables and you sort of wait. And then you gauge the situation. Is it time to run or you stay inside? Because running outside is not always the best option, because things can fall on you, like this happened to our maid. She - the earth opened and swallowed her for two days, I think. And so, anyway...
CONAN: Eliana Loveluck is here nodding her head in agreement as you're talking about the reaction to the quake.
ROSA: Yeah. I love what she - Eliana, what you had to say, you know? And one of those things that I totally agree with, Chileans is very - they work very well in solidarity. And my aunt said that, like, immediately, she lives by herself, and she said that her neighbors were wonderful to her, and they all became one. They just worked together. They look after one another, very resourceful.
CONAN: I'd like to think that happens in a lot of places in these situations (unintelligible).
ROSA: Yeah. I think that is true. One of those concerns that I do have is - and while I agree with what's being said in terms of Chile being actually prepared for such things, and I think that's all true, I just hope that people don't think that, like, Chile will not need some help, some serious help in rebuilding.
CONAN: Yes. And that's - it's interesting to hear from President Bachelet, who's, of course, just leaving office. Welcome to the presidency, young man. But, Eliana Loveluck, I wonder, she was talking about getting the call and, I'm fine. What happened? How did you hear about it?
Ms. LOVELUCK: I heard about it, actually, from a friend of my sons who had heard the news, knew that we were from Chile and was very concerned. But within a few minutes, the phone started to ring, and it just rang and rang and...
Ms. LOVELUCK: ...I was hearing from everyone. What you just said - I'm sorry, my memory's not the best. But what the caller just said with regard to hoping that people don't think that Chile needs help. Chile does need help. At the very beginning, as I mentioned, I think that there was a level of thinking that, you know, we will be able to take care of this ourselves. We don't need any aid.
But again, as people become more and more aware of the devastation - and this happened with President Bachelet - there is a recognition that we do need international aid, and there is aid that is just needed for the country.
CONAN: Rosa, thanks very much for the call. We're glad people are doing well.
ROSA: Thank you.
CONAN: And we'd like to thank Andre Filiatrault at the University of - State University of New York at Buffalo. Appreciate your time today.
Dr. FILIATRAULT: Thank you very much, Neal.
CONAN: And we're going to ask Richard Harris and Eliana Loveluck to stay with us. We're going to take a couple of more calls after a short break. So stay with us. We're also going to be talking with a journalist and author about the incident last week in Florida, about Shamu. NPR News.
(Soundbite of music)
CONAN: In just a couple of minutes, we'll talk about the killer whale that drowned its trainer at Sea World last week. Stay with us for that. But we wanted to continue our conversation on the effects of the earthquake in Chile over the weekend.
Our guests are Eliana Loveluck - who grew up there and now lives here in Washington, D.C. - and Richard Harris, NPR's science correspondent, both of them here in Studio 3A.
And let's see if we can get another caller on the line. This is Bill, Bill calling us from Kansas City.
BILL (Caller): Thank you. It's a very interesting show. I'm curious about the magnitude of the aftershocks. I mean, some of those aftershocks, according to the energy released, is as great as some earthquakes that we've heard of other parts of the world. Why is there not continuing devastation, or is the earth not moving that much?
CONAN: Richard Harris, (unintelligible).
HARRIS: Yeah. Well, I think part of the answer is there is continuing devastation. And there are dozens and dozens of aftershocks. I just checked this morning, and there were another dozen or more this - just today. And what's going on is - and these are mostly in the magnitude five range, but some are in the six range. You can easily get magnitude seven aftershocks from this earthquake, as well. And the thing about aftershocks is they are likely to continue for weeks or months or even years.
And even though they will gradually become less frequent, you could still have very large ones quite a bit later. And so, I mean, this is a very common aftereffect of an earthquake, but it is definitely a hazard for people who are trying to do rescue operations right now. And, in fact, there are reports of additional buildings collapsing with these additional shocks.
CONAN: Are there dangers of...
BILL: How do you...
CONAN: Im sorry. Bill, go ahead.
BILL: No, but how do you start the rebuilding process if the earth continues to get upheaval? Doesnt this almost say that you need to relocate a large amount of commerce or something?
HARRIS: Probably not. I mean, this is an enormous area that's damaged, and you can't think about sort of clearing out the Chilean wine country, which is essentially what this is. That's really not an option. But what will happen is that these aftershocks, they will become less frequent. Obviously, there are still - there will still be risks of earthquakes for years to come, and, in fact, indefinitely.
But, you know, after it calms down a little bit, there won't - the earth won't be - it won't seem like the earth is constantly shaking the way it must feel right now to people in Chile.
CONAN: And Bill, if you've ever considered asking that question to people who live in New Orleans and hurricanes, think about the same kind of question being posed to Chileans.
BILL: I don't know. An earthquake and a rainstorm - I mean, a hurricane is still a giant rainstorm. When you move the foundations of your buildings up and down - I understand your comparison, but I was just - it just surprised me at the size of the magnitude these aftershocks versus some others that might be three or fours.
BILL: But we're hearing 6.6s and all this, so.
CONAN: All right, Bill. Thanks very much for the call. Appreciate it. Email from Alejandro in Edina, Minnesota: I just talked to my parents via Skype. They live north of Valparaiso. All my other brothers and sisters live in Vina del Mar. They're doing fine. Almost all my Chilean friends here in Minnesota and Wisconsin have been using Facebook, Skype or MSN Messenger to keep track of relatives. One relative went back last night to look for relatives close to Chillan, close to the epicenter.
Ms. LOVELUCK: Chillan.
Ms. LOVELUCK: Yeah.
CONAN: She does not know what she's going to find. This is from Pablo in Washington State: My family lives in Vina del Mar, and many have moved to the south to its city called Coyhaique.
Ms. LOVELUCK: Coyhaique?
CONAN: That could be. That could be it. I'll take your pronunciation there. They're all fine, but reported a lot of things flying off bookshelves. They secure - but they're securing bookshelves to the wall. They communicate with my family here in the U.S. via Facebook. Interesting that all this computer communication seeming to work a lot better than telephones.
Let's go - one last call. This is Alejandra, Alejandra with us from Jacksonville.
ALEJANDRA (Caller): Hi, good afternoon.
CONAN: Sure. Go ahead, please.
ALEJANDRA: Well, I have my - all my family is living down in Chile. And my parents and my sister, they live in Coihaique(ph), which is about probably two or three hours north of Concepcion or where the epicenter was. And they didnt have any electricity or water until this morning, and - although somehow we could communicate by telephone. And everybody, as soon as they get some of the services back, they try to help each other, and this is a very old town with very old sections with buildings made of mud, bricks that date probably 100 years ago. And so those are the ones more damaged or completely on the ground. Actually, where we baptized my daughter, it's an almost 200-year-old church, and that's completely a rubble now on the ground.
CONAN: And you know that that building wasn't safe. And, of course, there were no building codes in those days. And...
ALEJANDRA: Exactly. And it's - that church has been closed for five years now.
CONAN: Oh, that's a good thing, because, obviously, no one was in it.
CONAN: But nevertheless, it's got to be heart-wrenching.
ALEJANDRA: Yeah. It was hard. We found pictures of that time, eight years ago, when we did the baptism. And - but it is, as some of the callers said, the codes, of course, are stronger now and people are really taking care of - if they found a building that is not safe, they already close it for the public access. And so it's a really - I remember being - when I was little, there was an earthquake on - in '72 or '70. And I remember since then, we always went to bed having our robes close by and our slippers, just in case, to get out as quickly as possible.
CONAN: Well, Alejandra, glad to hear your people are doing well.
ALEJANDRA: Thank you. Thank you for taking my call.
CONAN: And Eliana Loveluck, before we let you go, are you going to be heading south?
Ms. LOVELUCK: I am not. I think that right now, it's important to make sure that any planes that are providing aid go in. I think it would be a difficult time to go unless you have a particular skill that you can take to aid in the relief effort. The airport was - the airport in Santiago was severely damaged, and so that's been - that's posed quite a problem for both internal flights, as well as international flights.
And I also just wanted to mention that we are at a time of transition in Chile. We will have a new president on March 11th. And I think it will be a tremendous challenge to - for the new government to really find good collaboration and cooperation and to work very well with the public sector, which I think is an area that they probably have a little less experience in. But we are all hoping that the level of cooperation will be great, and that we will be able to rebuild.
CONAN: Eliana Loveluck, thank you very much for your time today. And again, we wish your people the best.
Ms. LOVELUCK: Thank you.
CONAN: Eliana Loveluck grew up in Concepcion, Chile and lived through the great Chilean earthquake back in 1960. She, along with NPR science correspondent Richard Harris, joined us here in Studio 3A.
Coming up, we'll talk about the orca that drowned its trainer at SeaWorld last week. Stay with us for that.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio.