Chile: an eyewitness account

Disaster and knowledge building in Chile for landscape and urban planning

Published on 18 March 2010

Author(s): IFLA News/Paula Villagra and Diana Menzies

Type:  Eyewitness account

Paula Villagra <pvillagi@uc.cl> is the IFLA delegate from Chile (International Federation of Landscape Architects). She had just finished a PhD in Australia and had returned to Chile about six weeks before the massive earthquake of 27 February and, of course, continuing aftershocks. Her family is from Concepción which was close to the epicentre of the earthquake. The following is part of her immediate correspondence with Diane Menzies.

Paula to Diane: Thank you so much for all your emails. I can’t explain what you feel when things like this happen, but every single email and message helped me to go through this during the worst part. I made it to Concepción ok three days ago. The trip was an unwanted adventure that someday I will share with you. But here things are slowly getting better. Water and electricity are coming back in some areas ... people are finding one another ... and the solidarity of Chilean people is showing up again and getting bigger and stronger. Unfortunately, many people have lost their lives and the destiny of many others is still unknown.

Many areas of Concepción are destroyed; bridges are down, streets are uneven and open, over 10 buildings will be demolished soon and the structure of many others has not been evaluated yet. I’ve had a look in a few and things look pretty bad. It is surprising that while most of the new buildings are down, the old ones are working ok. It is also hard to believe that most of them were built by the same company. I’m sure that issue will be studied and evaluated in depth by appropriate organizations after basic needs get restored. The worst part is that many coastal cities, fishing towns and villages, reached by the various waves, are completely devastated. This occurred along over 1000 km of our coast. I guess that the reconstruction of those areas will involve building new cities but also helping in recovering social and economic networks. We keep having many little earthquakes everyday. It is shaking as I write. Sometimes we have over 10 and 20 a day (that I feel) and at least a couple over 6 degrees, but it is amazing how fast you get used to that.

The university where I will start working soon lost five of their main directors. …classes have been postponed for a week or two. The university is now also the home of many people who lost everything and they need to be relocated before we start again. I’m in contact with the staff and we are working hard in re-organizing our programs to collaborate with the government in the re-construction of our city and region. I can’t wait. Paula

Paula to Diane: I went through the city for a little while today (we are only allowed to be outside our houses between 12 pm and 6 pm and we use that time in trying to help in what we can). I was able to collect various images that suggest some of the problems of open spaces in cases like this. People tend to sleep in tents outside their houses. We will live with daily quakes for at least a couple of months and people will remain in their tents so the need of relatively free open spaces within the city is big. Trash is another issue. The waste is accumulated on the streets because there are not authorized areas for the trash which can be easily reached by people. Being next to the river was also a problem in this case. In some areas the river burst its banks just because of the effect of the earthquake.

This also happened in the case of private and public pools. Some lost half of the water and inundated buildings. Parks and green areas that can keep and guide the overflow away are extremely necessary. All these issues are part of the design of the open space and we, as landscape architects, can make a big contribution in thinking how to provide a solution for that. I will look up the case in Japan [Kobe]. If you know of more places where these issues have been adequately addressed please let me know. I would like to get in touch with the people who have worked in those areas and learn from their experiences. Feel free to use part of my email for the next issue of IFLA News. I’m also attaching photos that you can use. I took them from Concepción today. Warm regards, Paula

Published in IFLA News (International Federation of Landscape Architects), No 86, February 2010

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