Chileans see political aftershocks from 2010 quake

Feb 26, 2012, 11:12 PM

SANTIAGO, Chile (AP) – Two years after Chile’s devastating earthquake, the failure to give a tsunami warning and a slow reconstruction effort are shaping politics ahead of the 2013 election to pick President Sebastian Pinera’s successor.

The magnitude-8.8 quake and the tsunami it unleashed before dawn on Feb. 27, 2010, destroyed 220,000 homes and washed away ports, riverfronts and seaside resorts. The government counted 524 dead, 181 of them killed by the tsunami.

The disaster presented unprecedented challenges and opportunities for Pinera, a conservative billionaire whose election ended 20 years of center-left rule in Chile when he succeeded Michelle Bachelet less than two weeks after the quake.

Seeking to cement his can-do image, Pinera committed his government to providing shelter for every victim within months and moving everyone into a decent home before the following winter.

Yet with Chile’s third post-quake winter approaching, 3,000 families still crowd into flimsy wooden shacks, and political coalitions on the right and left are looking to blame each other for quake failings with an eye on the November 2013 elections.

Pinera’s government this month praised a prosecutor’s request for charges of negligence leading to homicide against eight former officials of the civil protection and navy offices that botched the tsunami warnings in critical minutes and hours after the quake.

The president’s opponents portray the criminal case as a thinly disguised effort to assign political responsibility for the deaths to Bachelet. Bachelet, who has remained in the public eye leading the United Nations women’s agency, still enjoys 80 percent approval ratings and represents the center-left’s best hopes for recovering control of the government.

Chile’s early warning systems have been reinforced since the disaster, but post-quake analysis showed that key officials didn’t do all they could have to warn people of the danger based on available information.

The interior ministry’s national emergency office, ONEMI, blamed the navy’s hydrographic and oceanographic service, which is responsible for estimating tsunami dangers and notifying ONEMI. The navy office initially did issue a warning after the 3:34 a.m. quake, but then lifted it within the hour. But even during that period, ONEMI failed to order evacuations.

Thousands of people, familiar with Chile’s vulnerability to tsunamis, fled the coast nevertheless and saved themselves.

“Faced with a catastrophe, the first priority of a government, based on the available information and evidence, is to provide early and effective alerts and establish the necessary means to evacuate when danger exists,” Pinera said Friday at a ceremony at the naval base in Talcahuano, near the quake’s epicenter.

“Unfortunately on Feb. 27, 2010, we didn’t come through on this important work with the required effort and efficiency, and this error probably cost many human lives,” added Pinera, who like all Chilean presidents is serving a single four-year term.

While his center-right government focuses on the initial quake response, the center-left opposition is challenging the reconstruction achievements of his administration.

Pinera said that nearly 100 percent of infrastructure has been rebuilt, public buildings are 58 percent rebuilt and construction has begun on 136,000 homes to replace the 220,000 destroyed ones.

“We have been able to put 72,000 families into permanent homes,” he said, asserting that his government has solved 47 percent of the housing problems.

Opponents jumped on that as an admission that 148,000 families are still waiting, and challenged the 47 percent figure, saying it deceptively combines repairs and housing starts with finished homes. The actual number of finished homes is just 10,566, less than 11 percent of the total needed, said Laura Albornoz, interim president of the opposition Christian Democrat Party.

The number of families that will likely spend their third winter in shacks made of thin, poor-quality wood in camps that the government calls “villages” is down from 4,500 after the quake. The government has proposed a $310 subsidy to help them live with families or pay rent. Complicating their relocation is the fact that many lived in waterfront homes where the danger of another tsunami is too great to rebuild.

University of Berkeley architect Mary Comerio, an adviser to the United Nations on disaster recovery who toured Chile this month at the government’s invitation, said Pinera overpromised by vowing to complete reconstruction by the end of his term in March 2014.

“These are tough goals that would be difficult to achieve even in developed countries. In other countries the reconstruction can take 10 years,” she said.

(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

World News

In this Wednesday, Sept. 21, 2022, photo taken by an individual not employed by the Associated Pres...
Associated Press

At least 9 killed as Iran protests over woman’s death spread

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Clashes between Iranian security forces and protesters angry over the death of a 22-year-old woman in police custody have killed at least nine people since the violence erupted over the weekend, according to a tally Thursday by The Associated Press. The scope of Iran’s ongoing unrest, the worst in […]
3 days ago
Royal guards stand by the coffin of Britain's Queen Elizabeth II, as members of the public pay thei...
Associated Press

Queen Elizabeth II’s funeral | Live updates

WINDSOR, England — Queen Elizabeth II has been interred together with her late husband, Prince Philip, at St. George’s Chapel in Windsor Castle, officials said. The royal family’s official website said the Dean of Windsor conducted a private burial ceremony late Monday at the King George VI Memorial Chapel, an annex inside St. George’s, a […]
6 days ago
Britain's King Charles III and Camilla, the Queen Consort leave after a Service of Prayer and Refle...
Associated Press

Live updates: Queen’s funeral police effort is biggest ever

LONDON — London police say Queen Elizabeth II’s funeral on Monday will be the largest single policing event the force has ever handled. Metropolitan Police Deputy Assistant Commissioner Stuart Cundy said Friday that the massive police operation surpasses even the 2012 Olympics, which were held in the British capital, and the celebrations earlier this year […]
9 days ago
In this photo released by Xinhua News Agency, a medical worker takes a swab sample from a resident ...
Associated Press

WHO: COVID end ‘in sight,’ deaths at lowest since March 2020

GENEVA (AP) — The head of the World Health Organization said Wednesday that the number of coronavirus deaths worldwide last week was the lowest reported in the pandemic since March 2020, marking what could be a turning point in the years-long global outbreak. At a press briefing in Geneva, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said […]
11 days ago
Kenya's new president William Ruto signs the book of condolence for Queen Elizabeth II at the resid...
Associated Press

Live updates: Public views queen’s coffin in ancient hall

LONDON — Members of the public who waited outside for many hours are filing through Westminster Hall to pay their respects at the queen’s coffin, which is lying in state there. People are filing past each side of the coffin, most pausing for a brief moment to bow their heads. Some wiped their eyes while […]
11 days ago
The procession with the coffin of Queen Elizabeth II, followed by, from left, King Charles III, Pri...
Associated Press

Live updates: King and siblings stand vigil to honor queen

EDINBURGH, Scotland — King Charles III and his siblings have stood in silent vigil around their mother Queen Elizabeth II’s coffin in St Giles’ Cathedral in Edinburgh. Charles, Princess Anne, Princess Andrew and Prince Edward lowered their heads as they stood at four sides of the oak coffin. They stood for about 10 minutes alongside […]
13 days ago

Sponsored Articles

Children’s Cancer Network

Children’s Cancer Network celebrates cancer-fighting superheroes, raises funds during September’s Childhood Cancer Awareness Month

Jace Hyduchak was like most other kids in his kindergarten class: He loved to play basketball, dress up like his favorite superheroes and jump as high as his pint-sized body would take him on his backyard trampoline.
(Courtesy Condor)...
Condor Airlines

Condor Airlines shows passion for destinations from Sky Harbor with new-look aircraft

Condor Airlines brings passion to each flight and connects people to their dream destinations throughout the world.
Carla Berg, MHS, Deputy Director, Public Health Services, Arizona Department of Health Services

Vaccines are safe if you are pregnant or breastfeeding

Are you pregnant? Do you have a friend or loved one who’s expecting?
Chileans see political aftershocks from 2010 quake