Scientist Explains Earthquake Differences
Kid Reporter finds out why the earthquake in Chile was less destructive than the one that hit Haiti
Chile, located on the west coast of South America, experienced one of the biggest earthquakes recorded in the last 100 years on Saturday. The epicenter of the 8.8 magnitude earthquake was about 200 miles away from the nation's capital city of Santiago. More than two million people were affected by the quake, but less than 1,000 died.
A 7.2 earthquake in Haiti last month claimed more than 200,000 lives and destroyed much of the country's infrastructure. Entire communities were flattened by the quake. So why was the earthquake in Chile, which was 500 times stronger than the one that struck Haiti, so much less destructive?
According to the United States Geological Survey (USGS), experience, strict building codes, and a strong infrastructure are the answers.
"It is of the size that we've seen in the past in Chile, so it was not unusual," said Harley Benz, a research geophysicist with the USGS.
In 1906 and 1943, earthquakes measuring 8.2 shook the region. In 1922, an 8.5 magnitude earthquake hit. The world's largest recorded earthquake occurred in Chile in 1960. The 9.5 magnitude quake shattered the country's infrastructure. The people of Chile had to completely rebuild.
Each time it rebuilt, however, the government instituted and enforced stricter building codes and regulations. This has resulted in a decrease in the loss of life and property after each quake.
"This is the 5th largest earthquake we have recorded since the beginning of the 20th century," Benz told the Scholastic Kids Press Corps. Benz is part of the USGS Earthquake Hazards Program, which develops earthquake-proof designs for building and preparedness plans for areas hit by disaster. USGS works with countries and agencies around the world to monitor and prepare for earthquakes.
So far, most of the deaths in Chili were a result of tsunamis created by the earthquake.
One-third of Chile is covered by the Andes Mountains. The country, which runs for 2,880 miles along the western edge of South America, is squeezed between the Andes and the Pacific Ocean. The quake sent a tsunami racing across the ocean at jet liner speeds of about 500 miles per hour. Although tsunami warnings went out to several islands, including the U.S. state of Hawaii, only Chile was hurt by the waves.
The massive earthquake in Chile also sparked a series of aftershocks, which have added to the damage and delayed cleanup and rescue efforts.
"An aftershock is an earthquake that occurs following a bigger earthquake," Benz explained. "In the last two days we have recorded 177 aftershocks. The largest aftershock that we've recorded so far is a 6.8."
Scientists have also announced that the massive quake caused the earth to shift three inches from its axis. The shift will shorten each day by a little over one microsecond or one-millionth of a second. That small amount of time cannot be perceived by human senses, say the experts.
While Chile has not suffered the same devastating level of destruction as seen in Haiti, a much poorer country, the South American nation still needs help.
You can find organizations collecting donations for Chile at the Network for Good website.
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