Preparedness saved lives but needs are still significant after major earthquake

تم النشر: 10 أبريل 2014 3:26 CET

Following several weeks of tremors, bringing the message of loss and devastation for many, an 8.2 magnitude earthquake struck the northern regions of Chile in Arica-Parinacota and Antofagasta on 1 April 2014. A day after the initial quake, a 7.6 magnitude aftershock shook the regions again which triggered a tsunami warning. People were forced to relive the fear and trauma they experienced when a massive earthquake hit the country on 27 February 2010, causing a devastating tsunami which prompted a three-year response and recovery operation. This time, the tsunami warning prompted an evacuation of areas along the Chilean coast.

The Chilean Red Cross activated its emergency operations centre and branches in northern Chile as soon as the earthquake struck. “We were primarily focused on ensuring that evacuations took place in an organized way, supporting local authorities wherever it was required,” said  Mario Medina Disaster Response Coordinator of the Chilean Red Cross. As a result of this, Red Cross volunteers and staff assisted local and national authorities in order to evacuate almost 1 million people living in vulnerable and low lying coastal areas to safer grounds.

“It was encouraging to observe that the people, relevant organizations and institutions had responded to the evacuations in an exceptional manner. Although the tsunami did not happen, the preparedness measures taken helped avoid further injuries and deaths from the following tremors. In broad terms, it was an exemplary response,” said Gustavo Ramirez, country representative in Chile for the International Federation of Red Cross and Crescent Societies (IFRC).

Assessing the damage

The Red Cross is now focusing its efforts on assessing the damages and needs of affected communities caused by the earthquake and the following aftershocks.

It is hard to see the damages at first glance, but as you get closer to the houses, the damages to buildings, individuals, families and the communities are more visible. Based on our experience responding to earthquakes in Chile, we recognize the complexities and challenges that affected communities face in trying to recover from disasters, such as an earthquake, in an urban context. Therefore we anticipate that the recovery time and cost for many of these families will be considerably high,” said Felipe Del Cid, the disaster management delegate who was immediately sent to the affected areas by the IFRC’s Pan American Disaster Response Unit to support the Chilean Red Cross in identifying the damages and immediate needs of the affected communities.

“The Chilean people have a long history of dealing with earthquakes and I’m inspired by their resilience. But the situation remains challenging for many affected people especially those who were already vulnerable before the disaster hit. I  clearly recall the 2010 earthquake and tsunami, and although the level of devastation is significantly different, the situation is rather similar in terms of the urban context, closed markets and other support systems such banks. The big difference here is that there was no tsunami,” said Del Cid.

The overall extent of the damage and needs is still unclear as the assessments have been  by blocked roads stretched resources. However, initial assessments show that many families received damages to their homes, especially those living on the fringe of urban centres and where constructions are older and employ more traditional materials like clay and mud.

The affected population are also in need of psychosocial support, first aid  and medicine, water and sanitation, and medium term house repair, which is critical as there have been some 400 aftershocks following the initial earthquake. This has prompted the Chilean Government and the Ministry of Health to declare a state of emergency and sanitary emergency respectively in the northern part of Chile.

Loss of livelihoods

Initial assessments have also identified damage to artisanal fishing fleets. This has led to the loss of livelihoods especially for irregular migrants from Peru, Bolivia and Colombia whose livelihoods depend on the sea.

The IFRC has released 152,723CHF (172,383 US dollars) from its disaster relief emergency funds to assist 10,000 people.

“We have received many offers of support from our sister Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies and we would like to express our deepest gratitude for this immense show of support which reflects the strength and solidarity of our International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement. As damage and needs evaluations continue, we expect that we will be able to determine soon the need for an emergency appeal,” said Lorenza Donoso President of the Chilean Red Cross.

Due to the likelihood of further seismic activity and aftershocks in the area, it is expected that people will still be in a sensitive emotional state throughout the recovery process. The IFRC’s Pan American Disaster Response Unit sent an Lina Villa, an emergency health delegate to Chile to assist the National Society in carrying out psychosocial support activities to help those affected by the disaster recover from emotional toll they have experienced.