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Friday, February 12, 2016

Chile: Earthquakes and Safety Rules


Earthquakes are sudden rolling or shaking events caused by movement under the earth’s surface. Earthquakes happen along cracks in the earth's surface, called fault lines, and can be felt over large areas, although they usually last less than one minute. Earthquakes still cannot be predicted.

Earthquakes In Chile

Chile has a long history of massive earthquakes, so it is a high seismic risk zone.  Earthquakes can happen at any time of the year.

Earthquakes in Chile mainly occurred as the result of thrust faulting on the interface between the Nazca and South America plates. This subduction zone also hosted the largest earthquake on record, the 1960 MW = 9.5 earthquake in southern Chile (Valdivia).

Chile is characterized by the largest seismicity in the world. This high seismicity allows calibrating the Chilean Seismic Code with the observed performance of buildings after each large quake. The last calibration was due to the El Maule earthquake of February 27, 2010, MW = 8.8 earthquake and it was introduced in Chilean Code NCh 433 through the Decree 60, December 2011.

After the El Maule, Chile 2010 MW = 8.8 earthquake only 4 buildings collapsed (only considering reinforced concrete and masonry buildings). The following table shows the performance of Residential Buildings permitted from 1985 to 2009.

Building that collapsed
4 (approximate)
Building to be demolished
50 (estimate)
No of building 3 + stories
No of buildings 9 + stories

Failures in 3 + story buildings
Failures in 9 + story buildings

Tsunamis In Chile

Almost all earthquakes in Chile are produced along the Chilean shore, so always a Tsunami could be expected after an earthquake.

Earthquake-induced movement of the ocean floor most often generates tsunamis. If a major earthquake or landslide occurs close to shore, the first wave in a series could reach the beach in a few minutes, even before a warning is issued. Areas are at greater risk if they are less than 10 m.a.s.l. and within 2 km. Drowning is the most common cause of death associated with a tsunami. Tsunami waves and the receding water are very destructive to structures in the run-up zone. Other hazards include flooding, contamination of drinking water, and fires from gas lines or ruptured tanks.

2015 Illapel Earthquake (MW = 8.3)

On September 16, 2015, a powerful 8.3-magnitude earthquake struck off the Chilean coast (Illapel, Coquimbo Region), triggering a tsunami (waves of up to 4.5m, 13 deaths, 6 missing, and 1 million evacuated). The initial quake lasted three minutes, and was followed by several aftershocks greater than magnitude six.

Tall buildings swayed and car alarms were set off in Santiago (229 km), Buenos Aires (1,110 km), and the earthquake was felt in Sao Paulo (more than 2,600 km).

Although causing damage in the hundreds of millions, mainly due to the tsunami, the Illapel earthquake's low death toll relative to the 525 casualties of the significantly more powerful 2010 Chile earthquake was credited, in part, to its localization in a less-populated region, better coastal preparedness and an improved tsunami warning system, the longstanding enforcement of seismic building codes, and an improved emergency response.

Mining Industry

In the north of Chile are located the biggest copper mines, but workers were safe and operations were not damaged by the earthquake.

  •  Codelco staff and operations were unharmed in the quake that prompted the evacuation of personnel from facilities in coastal areas, amid a tsunami warning.
  • Workers at AMSA Los Pelambres operation were safe and installations hadn’t suffered any damage.
  • Anglo American, BHP Billiton and Pan Pacific Copper Co. mines were also unaffected.


Some safety rules that you have to consider in case of an earthquake in Chile, or any other seismic country, are the following (based on FEMA and Chilean authorities recommendations):

Before An Earthquake

  • Look around places where you spend time.  Identify safe places such as under a sturdy piece of furniture or against an interior wall in your home, office or school so that when the shaking starts, you Drop to the ground, Cover your head and neck with your arms, and if a safer place is nearby, crawl to it and Hold On.
  •  Practice how to “Drop, Cover, and Hold On!”
    •  To react quickly you must practice often. You may only have seconds to protect yourself in an earthquake.
  •  Before an earthquake occurs, secure items that could fall and cause injuries (e.g., bookshelves, mirrors, light fixtures).
  •  Store critical supplies (e.g., water, medication) and documents.
  • Plan how you will communicate with family members, including multiple methods by making a family emergency communication plan.
  • When choosing your home or business, check if the building is earthquake resistant per local building codes. In Chile, all buildings are earthquake resistance in accordance with its seismic codes (NCh433 and NCh2369).

During An Earthquake

If you are inside a building:

  •  Stay where you are until the shaking stops. Do not run outside. Do not get in a doorway as this does not provide protection from falling or flying objects, and you may not be able to remain standing.
  • Drop down onto your hands and knees so the earthquake doesn’t knock you down. Drop to the ground (before the earthquake drops you!)
  • Cover your head and neck with your arms to protect yourself from falling debris.
    • If you are in danger from falling objects, and you can move safely, crawl for additional cover under a sturdy desk or table.
    • If there is low furniture or an interior wall or corner nearby, and the path is clear, these may also provide some additional cover.
  • Stay away from glass, windows, outside doors and walls, and anything that could fall, such as light fixtures or furniture.
  • Hold on to any sturdy covering so you can move with it until the shaking stops. Stay where you are until the shaking stops.

If getting safely to the floor to take cover won’t be possible:

  • Identify an inside corner of the room away from windows and objects that could fall on you.  The earthquake safety specialist advises getting as low as possible to the floor. People who use wheelchairs or other mobility devices should lock their wheels and remain seated until the shaking stops. Protect your head and neck with your arms, a pillow, a book, or whatever is available.

If you are in bed when you feel the shaking:

  •  If you are in bed: Stay there and Cover your head and neck with a pillow. At night, hazards and debris are difficult to see and avoid; attempts to move in the dark result in more injuries than remaining in bed.

If you are outside when you feel the shaking:

  • If you are outdoors when the shaking starts, move away from buildings, streetlights, and utility wires. Once in the open, “Drop, Cover, and Hold On.” Stay there until the shaking stops. This might not be possible in a city, so you may need to duck inside a building to avoid falling debris.

If you are in a moving vehicle when you feel the shaking:

  • If you are in a moving vehicle, stop as quickly and safely as possible and stay in the vehicle. Avoid stopping near or under buildings, trees, overpasses, and utility wires. Proceed cautiously once the earthquake has stopped. Avoid roads, bridges, or ramps that the earthquake may have damaged.

If you are in the coastline (Tsunami hazard risk):

  • Follow the evacuation order issued by authorities and evacuate immediately.
  • Move inland to higher ground immediately. Pick areas 30 m.a.s.l. or go as far as 3 km inland, away from the coastline. If you cannot get this high or far, go as high or far as you can. Every meter inland or upward may make a difference.
  • Stay away from the beach. Never go down to the beach to watch a tsunami come in. If you can see the wave you are too close to escape it. CAUTION - If there is noticeable recession in water away from the shoreline this is nature's tsunami warning and it should be heeded. You should move away immediately.
  • Save yourself - not your possessions.
  • Remember to help your neighbors who may require special assistance - infants, elderly people, and individuals with access or functional needs.

After an Earthquake

  • Follow the instructions of local emergency management officials.
  • When the shaking stops, look around. If there is a clear path to safety, leave the building and go to an open space away from damaged areas.
  • If you are in the coastline, move inland to higher ground immediately.
  • If you are trapped, do not move about or kick up dust.
  • If you have a cell phone with you, use it to call or text for help.
  • Tap on a pipe or wall or use a whistle, if you have one, so that rescuers can locate you.
  • Once safe, monitor local news reports via battery operated radio, TV, social media, and cell phone text alerts for emergency information and instructions.
  • Be prepared to “Drop, Cover, and Hold on” in the likely event of aftershocks.

Listen to Local Officials

Learn about the emergency plans that have been established in your area by your state and local government. In any emergency, always listen to the instructions given by local emergency management officials.

“Drop, Cover, and Hold on”