The keys to surviving the big ones
Chile has over the years implemented strict building codes and rigorous evacuation plans, experts said. "People are more familiar with them," Bellini said of the temblors. "They, in general, know what to do as part of their daily lives, plus the building codes are fairly well-enforced in Chile. It's in their culture."
In February 2010, about 500 people died when a magnitude 8.8 earthquake hit. That quake was so violent, it moved one whole Chilean city about 10 feet west.
One month earlier, the importance of strict building codes was underscored when Port-au-Prince, Haiti, was hit by a magnitude 7.0 earthquake that leveled 70% of the Haitian capital's structures and killed at least 230,000 people.
"That's actually a perfect example of the differences in building codes and enforcement in two different regions," Bellini said. "Any place that has a magnitude 7 or an 8 is going to have some kind of damage. However, the building codes play a large part in the damage and destruction that is seen, as well as the casualty level. Population density plays an important part as well -- but the building codes are really what can save lives in areas that have large earthquakes."
In a 2011 report, the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction credited Chile's "strict building codes" with playing "a large part in protecting people."
"The key to surviving high magnitude quakes is to live and work in seismically safe buildings, while being aware of how nature around us can also change," Margareta Wahlstrom, U.N. special representative of the secretary-general for disaster risk reduction, said in the report.
The report found that Haiti's quake, which struck closer to the surface than in Chile, was "no match for the homes and buildings."
"In Haiti, in addition to [lack of strict] building codes, you have a population that doesn't have a regular historical experience of large quakes like this," Bellini said. "Last time there was a quake in Haiti that size was 100 plus years ago and they don't have large regular seismic activity plus the building codes are not there."
He added, "In Chile, they're better prepared. Whether it's in their mind every single moment of the day, I'm sure it's not. But in general, their infrastructure and their population is much more prepared for it."
Steven Godby, an expert in disaster management at Nottingham Trent University in England, praised the Chile's disaster preparedness, saying an estimated 500,000 people participated in a drill in May 2012 in the coastal region of Valparaiso.
"The government of Chile has been working hard to improve the awareness of people living along the coast to the threat from tsunamis and on what to do if one is approaching," Godby said in a statement. "Several tsunami drills have taken place since the tsunami that killed an estimated 500[-plus] Chileans in February 2010 and recent earthquakes in the region have helped to keep the threat firmly in people's minds."
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