When an 8.2 magnitude earthquake and its 7.8 aftershock struck off the coast of northern Chile Tuesday and Wednesday nights, seaside communities knew how to take action – thanks in part to Red Cross preparedness programs.
Aware that powerful earthquakes generate tsunamis, people up and down the coast evacuated their homes to seek higher ground, as part of government-led evacuation efforts.
Local Chilean Red Cross branches took immediate action to support the evacuation, including in the port city of Antofagasta, where volunteers assisted the elderly to leave their homes swiftly. Along Chile’s coastline, some 972,000 people and 11 hospitals evacuated. Reports of damaged homes and blackouts caused by the tsunami have been reported. Red Cross teams are on the ground, providing shelter inside the Iquique branch, connecting separated family members, and completing assessments in the area.
When people are prepared for natural disasters—earthquakes, tsunamis, floods, and volcanoes—they take evacuation orders seriously and are often able to get out of harm’s way before disaster strikes. That’s been one goal of American Red Cross programming in countries across South America through its Latin America Risk Reduction Activities, in which the Red Cross trains communities to prepare for and respond to locally-prevalent threats.
In Chile—and other countries across Latin America—the Red Cross helps towns to identify and publicize evacuation routes, so that everyone knows where to seek safety. It also assists communities to create early warning systems, learn first aid, develop individual family emergency plans, and even trains volunteers to assist tourists in the event of a major disaster. Tuesday night, the local coordinators of projects in Chile and Peru reported that all the communities in which the American Red Cross works evacuated according to their action plans.
Chile’s major 8.8 magnitude earthquake and tsunami in February 2010 showed the vital importance of training and preparation for many coastal towns in the country.
“It’s hard to explain the feeling… you go to sleep one night, seeing everything as usual, then you wake up and it’s all gone,” said fisherman Alejandro Garrido of the disaster four years ago. Determined not to let that level of devastation happen again, communities have been working hard to prepare. Tuesday and Wednesday night, they put that preparation into practice.