10,000 times as bad?

@AlexMassie has written a short and what should be not particularly provocative most entitled Huge Earthquake in Chile, Not Many Dead.

Perhaps it is because the carnage that is Haiti is so fresh in my mind but I guess it cannot just be him and I who will feel a little underwhelmed. Actually that is perhaps the wrong word, relieved is probably more apt.

Angry is another word which I could use.

The quake which hit Haiti had a magnitude of 7. Chile has just been hit with a quake with a magnitude of 8.8. Given that this is a logarithmic scale this means that Chile was hit with a quake nearly 100 times more powerful than that which struck Haiti.

The initial death toll for Haiti hovered around 50,000 but has leapt as bodies and destruction has been uncovered The New York Times reports that the cost could be between $7.2 billion to $13.2 billion, based on a death toll from 200,000 to 250,000.

MapThe initial reporting from Chile states that 82 people have died. This number is bound to increase but is far lower than even the preliminary outlines that we heard from Haiti on the 12th January.

Geography has certainly played an important role  in why Chile has suffered less than Haiti.

Haiti was struck by an earthquake 25 km from its vast and sprawling capital whereas Chile’s quake has struck further away from major population centres.

But poverty and corruption meant that any disaster which struck Haiti would have an impact out of proportion to what we would expect anywhere else.

“Earthquakes don’t kill people,” says John Mutter, a seismologist and disaster expert at Columbia University’s Earth Institute. “Bad buildings kill them.”

So because of these factors an earthquake 100 times more powerful  will only kill a 100th as many people.


7 thoughts on “10,000 times as bad?

  1. I was living in Chittagong, Bangladesh when the 1991 cyclone struck. The first press reports were of 59 dead. The final offical death toll was 140,000. Unofficial aid agency estimates were 250,000.

    1. You’re saying I might have called this early?

      Sadly, you may be right. Last toll I saw was in the mid-100s

      I did wonder about the timing of publishing this but I was really struck by the differences between Haiti and Chile.

      I hope that I am right and that Chile’s development and preparedness mean that they weather this Earthquake well.

      If not, then I’ve made myself look like a presumptuous and unfeeling git.

  2. Don’t worry, I don’t think it’s going to be on the hundreds of thousands scale, as Chile is more resilient to natural distaster than Haiti or Bangladesh for the very correct reasons you set out, and the main point of your post is sound; people are killed less by the disaster than by the pre-existing poverty.

    A brief post on my time in 1991 – reflections during a subsequent cyclone are at http://www.bickerstafferecord.org.uk/?p=161. The figure was 138, not 59. Senility sets in.

    A longer piece about one particular episode which changed my outlook quite a lot is at http://www.bickerstafferecord.org.uk/?p=1324

    1. The post is sound, I just worry about the timings of these things.

      Blogging is meant to be instantaneous, fresh and responsive, but when people have died. I get a little concerned. But Chile has experienced earthquakes before and is a fairly wealthy place, I’ve faith they should be okay.

      I will take a look at those posts late. I’ve got a Personal Statement to write.

  3. Hi, came here for the first time after reading a comment of yours on Socialist Unity.
    Good blog, added it to my Netvibes page.
    On this issue I think you should have gone with your cautious inclination, maybe used the blog to advertise an appeal. Just checked and the number dead has already risen to over 700.
    Just because the era of the blog and twitter encourages instantaneous reaction doesn’t mean it’s a good idea to do that when it’s a good idea to take stock.
    With disasters and such I would go with the reportage then see how things pan out for an oped after a few days.

    All the best

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