As Chile continued to be rocked by dozens of aftershocks from the 8.2-magnitude earthquake that struck early on April 1—one of them measuring as high as 7.6 on the Richter Scale—experts credited a mixture of preparedness and adherence to strict building codes for minimizing damage.
One of the hallmarks of that preparedness was a coastal-wide order to evacuate that sent thousands of people, including President Michelle Bachelet, to higher ground.
"I was evacuated like all citizens,” she wrote via Twitter early on April 3 after the 7.6 aftershock, tweeting from the city of Arica, where she had been assessing damage in the wake of the major quake. “One can see that the people are prepared.”
The 7.6 quake was a few miles south of Iquique, the port city in the midst of Chile’s main copper-mining region that was near the epicenter of the first one as well, the Associated Press reported. Initially recorded as a 7.8-magnitude quake, the aftershock was later downgraded, according to Accuweather.com. It came just 45 minutes after an aftershock measuring magnitude 6.5 hit the same region, near the border with Peru.
Evacuations from the April 1 quake included Easter Island, home of the indigenous Mapuche, reported The New York Times and other media. The entire coast of Chile was evacuated for time periods ranging from hours in the south to overnight in the north, near the epicenter. The move represented a vast difference from what happened in the 2010 earthquake and tsunami that killed more than 500 people, many of them swept away after officials held back on evacuations, The New York Times said. And it’s a good thing, since seismic experts predict a much larger earthquake even than the 8.2.
“This one didn’t release all the energy of its earthquake-producing zone,” said Cornell University structural geologist Richard W. Allmendinger, who also teaches at a university in the northern Chilean port city of Antofagasta, to The New York Timeson April 2. “It appears to be something of a pipsqueak, making us wonder if it’s a foreshock of a much larger earthquake.”
Also keeping residents safe, besides luck—the April 1 earthquake did not generate as large a tsunami as the 2010 quake did—were strict building codes that were adhered to, CNN reported.
"They're a seismically active region of the world, and they are very good at implementing their building codes similar to California," said a Denver-based geophysicist for the U.S. Geological Service, John Bellini, to CNN. "Because of that, you would see less damage than in other places that have poorer building codes.... That's probably one of the reasons there haven't been as many casualties as there could have been from a magnitude earthquake of this size."