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Chile earthquake aftermath: 'Preparedness saved lives,' experts say

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Thursday, April 3, 2014, 7:42 AM -

Another major earthquake rattled Chile's northern coast overnight with a powerful aftershock of magnitude 7.6 recorded.

It happened a little over 24 hours after the same area was rocked by a massive magnitude 8.2 quake that's blamed for six deaths.

There were no immediate reports of major damage or injuries from the aftershock, which was just on of many that followed Tuesday's quake.

STRICT BUILDING CODES SAVED LIVES

Strict building codes and the preparedness of millions of Chileans who live along an arc of volcanoes and fault lines likely kept the death toll -- only six by Wednesday afternoon -- low after the magnitude 8.2 earthquake rumbled offshore and prompted a tsunami, observers said.

Officials said four of those whose deaths were blamed on the quake late Tuesday that triggered landslides, power outages, and a tsunami suffered heart attacks, while two others were crushed.


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"They're a seismically active region of the world and they are very good at implementing their building codes similar to California," said John Bellini, a Denver-based geophysicist at the U.S. Geological Survey Wednesday.

He added, "Because of that, you would see less damage than in other places that have poorer building codes .... that's probably one of the reasons there haven't been as many casualties as there could have been from a magnitude earthquake of this size."

Nearly 928,000 people were evacuated, said Ricardo Toro, director of Chile's office of national emergency.

More than 2,500 homes sustained serious structural damage in the region around the northern port city of Iquique, the mayor of Alto Hospicio, Ramon Galleguillos, told reporters. Most of the homes were built with poor workmanship through government subsidies, Galleguillos said. Alto Hospicio is about a mile from Iquique, 60 miles southeast from the epicenter of the quake.

Chilean President Michelle Bachelet, who toured the region Wednesday, praised local authorities for responding in an "exemplary manner" to a powerful earthquake and the tsunami that followed.

"This is a great example to all of us that when we work together in an adequate manner and we when we follow the plans that have been established in the region, we work well," Bachelet said.

Chile is in one of the most earthquake-prone regions in the world.

The country sits on an arc of volcanoes and fault lines circling the Pacific Ocean known as the "Ring of Fire," according to Mark Simons, a geophysicist at Caltech in Pasadena, California. This area sees frequent earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. Since 1973, Chile has had more than a dozen quakes of magnitude-7.0 and above.

Simons said Tuesday's quake occurred as the fault line along Chile's coast has constantly shifted in the last 140 years. In recent weeks, this area has seen a cluster of activity -- something like 50 to 100 smaller quakes. Then, late last month, a magnitude 6.7 and a magnitude 6.1 quake struck.

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