I have been following the events that have taken place in Chile today, as well as the subsequent tsunami warnings that have spread across the Pacific. The Chilean government, society, and people should be praised for their readiness in dealing with such a catastrophic natural disaster…as of this writing, Chile has still not appealed for international help even though the death toll has topped 300.
Earlier, I read this article in the Wall Street Journal. Apparently, the president of Haiti visited the Chilean embassy in Port-Au-Prince just hours after the massive quake rattled the South American country. Many Haitian citizens, as one might imagine, are saddened to hear that the world is repeating its tragedies.
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti – News of Chile’s massive earthquake traveled fast in quake-hit Haiti, where people were saddened to hear about the latest quake, wondered aloud whether God was angry at the world, and worried that the globe’s attention would shift away from this tiny and impoverished nation.
“What’s going on in the world?” asked Nancy Brunet, a 54-year-old Port-au-Prince resident.
“Earthquakes here, in Chile, and in Japan. Nature is going crazy,” added Marlene Larco, a 49-year-old manager of a hardware store.
Having suffered so much since the Jan. 12 quake, many grieving Haitians expressed their heartfelt condolences. President Rene Preval went to the Chilean embassy in Port-au-Prince to give his personal message of sympathy. Chilean President Michelle Bachelet was just in Haiti earlier this month to get a first hand look at the damage.
Haitians also marveled at the much lower death toll in Chile and said it was evidence that Haiti needed to enact much stricter building codes.
“There are very good structures in Chile, built correctly. That’s why not more people died,” said Moise Philogene, a 40-year-old unemployed lawyer. Mr.Philogene said he didn’t know much about science, but supposed there was a connection between the two quakes.
“It’s earthquake time. It started in Haiti, went to Chile… maybe Mexico is next,” he mused. “I don’t know. But it’s going around.”
As some news photographers left Haiti en route to Chile, locals wondered if the world’s attention would slip away from Haiti, where up to 300,000 people died in the quake and more than a million were thrown out of their homes.
The Haitian concern for the victims of the Chilean earthquake shows that there is much more to this story than body counts and cameras pointed at the ocean to await made-for-TV tsunamis. At the same time, Mr. Philogene makes a good point about the difference in casualties between the two countries…Chile was prepared for a massive earthquake, while Haiti was not. In addition, Haiti also suffers from a lack of legitimate governance. For years, the UN has served as the dominant police and political stabilizer on the island. Unfortunately, the 7.0 quake that ravaged the capital last month brought down the UN headquarters and killed several top officials, including the director.
Chile’s current president, Michelle Bachelete, and the president-elect, Sebastian Pinera, seem to be coordinating together efficiently. Hopefully next month’s transition will go through smoothly and even more importantly, we all should keep our fingers crossed that we have seen the worst of the devastation.
**Update** March 3rd,
Sadly, it appears the death toll in this disaster has now topped 800 in Chile as rescue crews continue to work round the clock. Meanwhile, Christopher Hitchens has an excellent article about Chile, the earthquake, and how its society was prepared for such a devastating event. Hitchens argues that Chile, as a free democracy and open society, was able to survive the quake “relatively well”, while a backwards dictatorship like Iran would not, should the Islamic Republic ever suffer a similar situation.