Geology is the study of the Earth’s origin, history and structure. Those who examine such things are used to the glacial pace of change occurring over millennia. until something like this week’s earthquake in Chile comes along.
At least 11 are dead and dozens of buildings destroyed as a result of the strong earthquake centred in the coastal city of Iquique, 1,500 km north of Santiago. According to some specialists, this is the second largest quake recorded anywhere in the world. The phenomenon occurred on Monday at 6:44 p.m. and measured 7.9 on the Richter scale.
In Iquique deaths occurred from falling rocks and mud. In Arica, a huge rock rolled down the mountain, killing a sleeping homeless person. In Pozo Almont, another northern region, dozens of houses were destroyed or damaged. Some residents lost their municipal water supply as infrastructure was destroyed. There were also power cuts, collapsed telecommunications and structural damage to many buildings.
"At one moment, I saw thousands of people running like crazy towards the mountains. We feared another tsunami," survivor Alejandro Valenzuela told a local newspaper.
Chile’s Direction of Civil Works asked families not to stay in their houses for fear of additional injury due to aftershocks. On Tuesday night, thousands of people slept in the open air.
For such a strong earthquake to have caused so few deaths is due in part to the fact that most of the region is only lightly populated. I have been to the bustling seaport of Iquique. Leaving the city to visit the Cerro Colorado copper mine, one immediately begins a steep climb up over the sand dunes into the Atacama Desert. The dunes are large enough to qualify as "mountains", but I would fear the possibility that large portions could slide down during an earthquake, obliterating homes and businesses in their path.
We know now from news reports that BHP BILLITON suspended work at its Cerro Colorado mine due to a loss of electric power to the site during the quake. The mine remained closed today (Wednesday) pending a thorough review of all facilities to assess damages. The company’s Escondida mine operated normally.
Most other copper mines were unaffected by the earthquake. Chile’s state-owned copper miner, CODELCO, continued production as did the Collahuasi mine in which FALCONBRIDGE of Toronto holds a 44% interest. AUR RESOURCES briefly halted its Quebrada Blanca mine Monday evening but resumed operating on Tuesday morning. Production at the El Abra mine of PHELPS DODGE was uninterrupted.
This week in Chile will be remembered as exciting for some and tragic for others. We offer sympathy to those who have lost loved ones.