Chile's earthquake

I’m not surprised that—so far, at least—the death toll from Chile’s earthquake is so low compared to Haiti’s, despite the much stronger quake. I was trained as a structural engineer, and my department was loaded with graduate students from South America. Latin American countries tend to take earthquakes very seriously, and their engineers are highly educated, both at home and abroad.

News reports will, of course, focus on the devastated areas, but most of the buildings must have done an excellent job of protecting the people within. This is not to say that the buildings weren’t damaged; there’s too much energy in a big quake to expect most buildings to escape unscathed. But I would expect to see most engineered buildings1 to have absorbed the energy without large-scale collapse.

  1. Buildings that were designed by engineers, like office and apartment buildings. Older, smaller residences are typically not engineered and usually suffer the most damage.