A powerful magnitude 8.2 earthquake struck near the northern coast of Chile on April 1, prompting a tsunami and a series of strong aftershocks. Yet, nearly 1 million people were safely evacuated from harm’s way thanks to Chile’s disaster response preparations and early detection of the tsunami.Chile is one of the most earthquake-prone countries in the world, and last week’s tremor was the most significant seismic activity since 2010, when a magnitude 8.8 earthquake hit central Chile. Chilean officials were able to detect the earthquake and track tsunami waves before landfall, allowing them to respond swiftly and evacuate people in potentially affected areas. The result was very few casualties in contrast to the 2010 earthquake, which tragically took more than 550 lives.
USAID’s Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance (USAID/OFDA) has worked with the Government of Chile for more than two decades to strengthen its ability to prepare for and respond to natural disasters. Since 2010, an emphasis has been placed on helping Chile establish a national monitoring system that allows local experts to study and track seismic activity in the region. Additionally, USAID and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration helped Chile develop a tsunami early warning system that has bolstered the country’s ability to detect tsunamis in advance and alert people when needed, including for evacuations.USAID/OFDA also supports training workshops for local and emergency responders in Chile that focus on tsunami response exercises as an effective preparedness tool, as well as bolstering skills in medical aid, urban-search-and-rescue capabilities, and coordination during a disaster.
Underscoring the importance of disaster preparedness, geologists predict that Chile will experience more earthquakes in the future. However, the Chilean Government’s response to this most recent disaster demonstrates the lifesaving power of disaster risk reduction work.