The world has suffered many natural disasters recently, or so it seems. I do not think that things like earthquakes, tsunamis, hurricanes and volcanic eruptions are getting more frequent. They are not. However, the footprint of humanity extends into almost every corner of the world these days, so the impact of a natural disaster, in terms of loss of life and economic loss, is bound to be much more severe than ever.
It is odd how humanity can think itself in control of its environment, when in fact the reverse is true. We build networks of power lines to serve every corner with electricity, and an earthquake renders them all useless. We develop sophisticated jet engines that can push craft through the air and five hundred miles an hour, but a relatively small volcanic eruption makes us too frightened to fly in them.
We forget the ancient wisdom “Homo proponit, sed Deus disponit”.
Perhaps “man proposes God disposes” is too simple a saying to be understood or too superficial. Man can, as Hamlet said, “rough hew” an approximate shape, but the final shape is not determined by mankind, however clever that we think we are. Sometimes the final form is unrecognisable from what we hewn in the rough.
In Chile on 27th February at about 3.30 in the morning, just off the coast of Maule, the earth shook for a about minute and a half. The quake reached 8.8 on the Richter scale, one of the most violent earthquakes that people have known since they started measuring earthquakes.
Nearly five hundred souls perished. The tremors were felt in Peru, two and a half thousand kilometres away, in Argentina, on the other side of the Andes Mountains, as far away as Buenos Aires. In Santiago, hundreds of miles from the epicentre, I ca see signs of earthquake damage in about half the buildings I enter. Sometimes there is a simple crack in the wall, other times part of the structure of a building has fallen.
The Chileans that I have spoken to about the earthquake were, in some cases, directly caught up in it in the place where it was most intensely felt. They all agree on two things; there would have been far greater loss of life it the earthquake had happened in the middle of a working day instead of the early hours of the morning and as bad as the earthquake was, the tsunami that followed was worse.
You can see examples of the devastation that the tsunami wreaked upon the coastal towns of Southern Chile. It caused minor damage to San Diego in California and to the fisheries in Japan.
The infrastructure damage in Chile was tremendous. People were without power or heat energy for many days as underground wires and pipes had to be repaired. Genersys had several solar panels installed on buildings close to the epicentre, but I can report that these suffered no damage at all and are still functioning perfectly.
Perhaps that is the solution not just for Chile, but for all countries. Energy installations are usually centralised but decentralised energy, especially microgeneration means that when natural disasters strike, as strike they do, there is usually some energy available, where damage to a single power plant or series of power and gas lines leaves people without power and heat until the damage is repaired.
The Chileans are remarkable people; they talk of their earthquake experiences without fear, but with inquiring minds seeking to learn the lessons. Of course help is welcome and should be freely given, but the calm determination that characterises these people will see them succeed in the repair and rebuilding work that they are now undertaking.
The photographs are by kind permission of Oncomed, who provide immediate medical facilities in the aftermath of these events.