It was enough to reduce things to ruins, but in general the country’s constructions passed the difficult test of the mega-earthquake measuring 8.8 on the Richter scale that affected central-southern Chile in the early hours of Saturday, 27 February.
This is the assessment of Chilean engineers after undertaking a detailed analysis of how the country’s buildings held up to the fifth most powerful earthquake in the history of seismology, which was accompanied by a subsequent devastating tsunami along the coast near Talca and Concepción.
“Here we had one thousandth the number of deaths compared to Haiti, despite the fact that the earthquake was much more powerful. Only one building in the entire country collapsed – others did not topple over completely and no human lives were lost there,” explained Tomás Guendelman, president of the Chilean Association of Civil Engineers (AICE).
“The Chilean standard is excellent and this was proven with what happened,” added Carlos Uribe, former state inspector for the Public Works Ministry.
Now, the outlook is not as positive when we analyze the behavior of the basic services network, telecommunications, energy, and roads. “Road, radio, and television communication must have far higher standards than the rest of infrastructure for such cases,” Uribe stated.
For the former head of the AICE Rodrigo Mujica, in general infrastructure was up to the intensity of the earthquake, especially bridges, as only a few of them presented flaws out of the over 80,000 that exist in the country.
For their part, the privately run highways also stood up well due to the fact that the companies that built them even did so at a higher quality standard than what is required for new buildings.
High levels of seismic activity are characteristic of Chile, which is why the quality standard for construction is similar to that of San Francisco, United States, an area with a major geological fault line where earthquakes are also part of its history. The updating of the standard in 1996, after the earthquake in 1985, allowed the country to respond positively despite the intensity and magnitude of the earthquake.
In fact, the quality of the country’s building code was highlighted by the US agency Dow Jones Newswires in an article noting that the rigorous and properly applied building codes saved the majority of modern buildings and an incalculable number of lives.