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Quake comparison: Chile vs. Haiti
The earthquake that rocked Chile this weekend was more powerful but far less damaging than Haiti's. Why?
 
Residents walk over a highway in Chile cracked by the quake.
Residents walk over a highway in Chile cracked by the quake.
Corbis/Reuters/Ivan Alvarado

An 8.8-magnitude earthquake struck Chile early Saturday morning, killing hundreds and displacing millions. Although it was vastly more powerful than the quake that devastated Haiti, far fewer people have died and the country's infrastructure remains largely intact. Why did Chile's stronger quake take a relatively much lighter toll on the country than Haiti's ruinous temblor? (Watch a CBS report about Chile's earthquake)

How much stronger was Chile's quake?
The earthquake that struck Chile at 3:34 a.m. on Saturday morning was an 8.8 magnitude quake and lasted approximately three minutes. Haiti's quake was only a 7 magnitude, and released a 500th of the energy.

How does that compare with other quakes?
This weekend's was the fifth-strongest in recorded history. The Haiti earthquake isn't even on the U.S. Geological Survey list.

How do the death tolls compare?
Chile's President Michelle Bachelet has said that over 700 people died as a result of the quake, though the number is expected to rise. Haiti's death toll is approximately 230,000, which makes it the third deadliest since 1900, behind the Indonesian quake of 2004 and one in Tangshen, China, in 1976 which killed 655,000.

Why were so many more people killed in Haiti?
Various reasons. Chile is a wealthy, developed country with a history of earthquakes, whereas Haiti is a third-world country with widespread poverty and no disaster-relief services. The epicenter of this weekend's quake was 70 miles away from the city of Concepcion (pop. 200,000), whereas the Haitian epicenter was 10 miles away from Port-au-Prince (pop. 3 million).

So Chile was better prepared?
Yes. In 1960, Chile suffered the worst earthquake in recorded history, a 9.5 magnitude quake which killed thousands. As a result, its people have an "earthquake consciousness", says the CS Monitor, and are "well versed in what to do" should a quake strike. Its buildings also withstood the quake better.

Why did fewer buildings collapse in Chile?
Chile established strict building codes in 1985 after a 7.8 magnitude earthquake in Valparaíso. According to Slate.com, Haiti has no national building code and no means of checking building safety. And while it was stronger, the Chilean quake also occurred 22 miles below the earth’s surface twice as deep as in Haiti. That means there was "twice as much earth to absorb the shock before it reached building foundations," according to Newsweek.

How did the tsunamis compare?

Chile's was worse. But while it killed several people on a Chilean island and caused damage in coastal communities, the tsunami's effects were minimal elsewhere. It didn't stop thousands from evacuating beaches as far away as Japan and Hawaii, though. A 9-foot tsunami in Haiti was virtually ignored due to the enormous damage of the quake itself, though it did kill 3 people.

How prosperous is Chile compared to Haiti?
Chile has "Latin America's highest per capita GDP," reports Time, whereas Haiti is "the poorest country in the western hemisphere."

So Chile doesn't need international aid?
While Chile was able to pay for immediate disaster relief, it will likely seek the support of international agencies to rebuild its severely damaged infrastructure. The Red Cross said it could direct some of the $322 million it received after Haiti towards helping Chileans. Several American charities have already set up fundraising pleas for Chile.

How will Chile be affected in the long run?
In addition to those killed, some 2 million residents have been left homeless, and 500,000 buildings have been severely damaged. In Concepción, where looters have ravaged markets, gas stations, and banks, the military has taken control of security. "We face a catastrophe of such unthinkable magnitude that it will require a giant effort" for Chile to recover, President Bachelet said on Sunday.

Why are all these earthquakes happening now?
In fact there are no more than usual, though it may seem that way between Chile, Haiti, and the earthquake that hit Japan on Saturday. "From our human perspective with our relatively short and incomplete memories and better communications around the world, we hear about more earthquakes and it seems like they are more frequent," says J. Ramón Arrowsmith on Livescience. "But this is probably not any indication of a global change in earthquake rate of significance."

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SEE MORE OF THE WEEK'S RELATED COVERAGE:
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Is the U.S. occupying Haiti?
Is John Edwards 'exploiting' Haiti?

 

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