The massive 8.8-magnitude earthquake that struck Chile Saturday morning is not like the one that devastated Haiti in January, said a relief expert at World Vision.
Even though both monstrous quakes have caused or is expected to result in the deaths of many people, the challenges facing relief workers in each country is different, said Steve Matthews of World Vision’s global rapid response team.
“This (Chile) quake will not be like the one in Haiti,” said Matthews on Saturday.
Matthews and other relief experts are coordinating early plans for the group’s response in Chile.
“Haiti was concentrated and that led to the challenge of tons of aid and hundreds of aid workers being sent into a small zone,” he said. “This quake off the Chilean coast has potential to reach remote areas and thus it will be extremely difficult to assess the number of deaths and amount of damage, but we can expect that children and families will have taken the brunt of it.”
The Chile quake is responsible for at least 708 deaths. It has also triggered tsunamis but the Pacific-wide alert for a tsunami has been lifted.
World Vision staff in Chile said the disaster happened during the early morning when everyone was sleeping, so there was no time to escape.
It struck at 3:34 a.m. local time 200 miles southwest of the capital, Santiago.
“Many houses are destroyed; even large buildings have collapsed,” said Mariela Chavarriga, emergency advisor for World Vision in Chile. “Main roads have been destroyed and communication is very difficult. We are trying to connect with our regional offices but all the phone lines are down.”
Electricity is out in many areas also.
World Vision said it was sending its first relief flight, in coordination with the Bolivian air force, and loaded supplies including tarps, blankets, plastic sheeting and collapsible water containers for survivors, to Chile later Saturday.
Many church-based relief groups have also initiated response to the Chile quake.
Baptist Global Response, the relief arm of the Southern Baptist Convention, is working with local partners on the ground to assess relief needs. The Baptist group said it is ready to send a team “immediately” if ministry partners in Chile request help.
Church World Service and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America International Disaster Response are also working with their Chilean partners to assess the situation and plan responses.
Chile has a history of large earthquakes given that it lies on the Pacific Ring of Fire. In November 2007, northern Chile experienced a 7.7-magnitude quake. And in 1960, the country was hit by the largest recorded quake (magnitude 9.5) in the world. That quake killed 1,655 people and left 2 million homeless.
World Vision has worked in Chile for 30 years and has more than 100 staff in the country. The Christian relief agency was one of the first responders during the 2007 Chile quake.