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After the quake

May 2, 2010

Concepcion: We take a walk around the city, stepping over the mounds of rubble at every corner, and I’m surprised at how little damage such a massive quake has caused. The 27 February quake here measured 8.8, whereas the far more devastating quake in Haiti was less than 7 – and the Richter scale is a logarithmic (factor of 10 scale).

Brand new block with the 'for sale' sign still up

The vast difference is down to Concepcion’s much more stringent construction codes and the country’s relative affluence.

40,000 people are still homeless as the winter approaches.

Nevertheless, we find some shocks, including a brand new 12-storey apartment block that lies rumpled on the ground, a bridge across the 2km Biobio river in a domino-line of pieces and other signes of collapse.

There's now only one standing bridge across the Biobio, meaning huge jams

Around 40,000 people here are still homeless after the quake and the authorities are racing to build them temporary shelters in time for winter – stacks of chipboard and ply are at the stadium, waiting to be assembled before the weather turns.

The left-hand side of the building was the top. Amazingly, the building was 90% empty at the time because people were away on holiday.

The port of Talcahuano on Concepcion’s coast was devastated by the tsunamis that followed the quake, destroying the fishing processing plants there, an important source of employment in this impoverished region. People lost their only income, and often their homes, overnight. Our visit coincides with the 1 May Workers’ Day and protesters march past us, unlikely to see sympathy under the new right-wing Pinera government.

1 May in Talcahuano

We visit a vegetable market for supplies and I try to learn the Spanish for all those tricky words that have Arabic rather than Latin origins. Looking around, I am struck by the sudden realisation of how dependent our global diet is on Latin America. Imagine life without tomatoes, potatoes, pepper, sweet peppers (capsicum), chocolate, sweetcorn, chilli… What did my poor ancestors eat? We try a couple of fruits, including the local pepino and tuna, a prickly pear from the cactuses further north.

All that's left of poor Bernardo O'Higgins, Chile's hero

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