Chile earthquake explained

Anne Lemnitzer, assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering, shared her eyewitness account of the effects of Chile’s Feb. 27 earthquake at this week’s Cal State Fullerton Engineering and Computer Science Affiliates Technology Breakfast at the Holiday Inn.

She said some earthquakes, such as Haiti’s, are highly publicized because they cause complete destruction of buildings and human lives.

Chile’s earthquake, however, is one that slipped through the cracks. This earthquake also destroyed buildings but Lemnitzer says the media did not feel it was as important. She spoke about how the physical destruction affected the country socially and clearly conveyed the impact of the destruction through charts and graphs.

Many buildings collapsed because of poor infrastructure and building inconsistencies from floor to floor, Lemnitzer said. Liquefaction, the process in which dirt becomes similar to quicksand, also played an important role in causing buildings to collapse.

Lemnitzer researched the social impact of the Chilean earthquake and provided a humanistic perspective on the natural disaster.

“Beyond engineering, I think that is the most valuable; the social impact. It’s not just the technical stuff,” said 31-year-old structural engineering graduate student, Amerald Simanungkalit. “What happens to the community, what happens to the people sometimes we have to think about that.”

Lemnitzer and her colleagues took a trip to Chile three weeks after the earthquake. She explains that is when she realized how socially devastating it was to this country. The media downplayed the effects of this disaster because many of the damaged homes were made of mud and structurally, not as many buildings went down.

Lemnitzer said it is important to learn from the earthquakes that have hit Third World countries. The United States may advance in technology but it is not prone to natural disasters.

She said communities have to unite in the midst of catastrophic events and be ready for them at any time.

“I keep hearing we’re supposed to get hit with the really big one so I am just wondering what we can do to prepare. Not even just from an engineer standpoint but just on the local level, getting everyone organized,” said Vanessa Robles, civil engineering major.

What caused tremendous chaos was the loss of property titles as a result of the tsunami. People could not prove what piece of land was theirs because their documents were washed away. Lemnitzer said it is important to stick together during such difficult times in order to rebuild the damaged communities as quickly as possible.

“The whole economy breaking down and the people losing their houses, I think that was the main thing. Sleeping on the street then all the robbery afterward, that was really bad because the military had to step in,” Lemnitzer said. “One more lesson is how to get the hospitals back on track, but that’s in every country after a disaster.”

Lemnitzer said Chile had more funding from within their country’s economy than Haiti, which is why it was not all over the news but the impact was just as profound. The social impact is just as serious as the structural impact and that is sometimes forgotten, said Lemnitzer.

“Usually everyone looks at the building damage and the social science is completely forgotten so that’s why it’s important to talk about, especially to a group of engineers,” Lemnitzer said. “To just fix a building doesn’t do anything.”

About Karen Dickinson