Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Of Building Codes & Unequality

The madness seems to be under control. Yesterday a department store was set on fire in Concepción by looters, but it seems the 14-hour curfew (from 8:00 PM to noon) worked its charm. Concepción looked like a war zone yesterday. It was the most difficult day since the earthquake on every level.

"When the soldiers showed up the entire neighborhood walked out to greet them with applause. We were desperate." My cousin's friend, who lives in Concepción.

I still think the government took too long to send in military forces to the disaster zones. Chileans have a bit of a trauma when it comes to the military. Ever since the 1973 coup, seeing armed soldiers on the street provides more fear than calm. The current government is socialist, and opposed the dictatorship and the coup, so part of me understands why they're scared of reaching out to the army. But given the circumstances those past differences should've been forgotten.

On Saturday afternoon, hours after the earthquake, government officials announced that the situation was under control and that we didn't need international help. "But thanks anyway." There are better ways of reasuring people, I think. Arrogance isn't one of them, especially when you take back what you said a couple of days later. Yes, everyone's allowed to make mistakes, but for a government official to make asumptions just hours after a natural disaster is reckless. It's been four days since the earthquake, and every day we discover new devastated areas.

And here's what I'm trying to get at: the devastated areas are poor. Santiago is wealthier, and the buildings are still standing (99.9% of them, others have cracks) because of strict building codes. But down south not every construction follows those codes. Most people built their houses themselves, or lived in old houses that didn't follow building codes. We're discovering towns that were completely swept by tsunamis. There's mud everywhere, no running water, no food. These aren't big cities with concrete buildings supported by steel skeletons. These are shore towns. Places tourists like to visit, camping sites. Vulnerable towns. Even Concepción, Chile's second biggest city, was in chaos yesterday. The destruction is astounding; the need for food and water is paramount.
Building in Santiago, practically unscathed.

Chile is one of the most stable economies in Latin America, but the unequality is also significant. It really surprised me how the authorities seemed to overlook this when they first assessed the situation. I really don't have the energy to criticize the government now. Time for criticism will come later. Now it's time to help.

As I write this, people are trapped in a collapsed building in Concepción, and the aftershocks have trapped the rescue team trying to find survivors. Talcahuano, a port town right next to Concepción, has containers everywhere. They were swept in by the waves. There's mud, oil, and rubble everywhere. "Everything stains", a local woman said. There's no running water, no power, no food.

We DO need help, as much as we can get. You can go here and make your donation to the institution of your liking.

Things are much better in Santiago. I used the subway and the elevator yesterday. Still feeling aftershocks, but not as many. You know when you get off a boat and your entire body still feels as if you were floating? It's a similar feeling. It's like being earthsick. Four days later and it seems the ground hasn't stopped moving, it's unbelievable. The pain, empathy, and frustration grow each day. But so does the relief of knowing everyone I love is safe.

I'm going to volunteer as soon as it's possible. First we have to rescue survivors, clean up, and get organized. We'll rise once again, one brick at a time.


Cindy said...

Thank you for these riveting posts, Sofi. Stay strong and I hope assistance keeps rolling in.

Spender said...

My heart aches for you and your country, Sofia. I know that the devastation must surely be overwhelming. I am glad that the government will be accepting aid from other countries; please know that the U.S. has your back. Stay strong!