Was it luck or preparedness? What explains the low death toll in Chile's earthquake?

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Marco Werman: I'm Marco Werman, this is The World. Chile is no stranger to earthquakes. It lies on the famous Ring of Fire. Even so, last night's 8.2 quake raised alarms throughout Chile. 6 deaths have been blamed on the tremor and it set of tsunami alerts which have now been lifted. Jonathan Franklin is a reporter for The Guardian, based in Santiago. I asked him if he felt the ground shake. Jonathan Franklin: No, we didn't feel anything in Santiago. The epicenter was about 1,200 miles north of Santiago but there was an immediate alert to evacuate even the coasts in this part of Chile. Werman: What were the reports from where the epicenter was? Franklin: The reporters up there was that there was a real fear that there would be a big tsunami because the ocean started to pull back and because Chileans have a long experience with both tsunamis and massive earthquakes, almost 1 million people fled to the hills and for many of them it was a long, cold night as they sat up on top of the hill and watched the wills come in. The biggest waves I think topped around 8 or 9 feet, so they weren't that catastrophic. Werman: How prepared, generally, is Chile for earthquakes, and especially for tsunamis that could result from them? Franklin: Well, in 2010, the country thought they were pretty well prepared but at 3 o'clock in the morning in February of 2010, an 8.8 quake sent a surge of water as high as 50 feet into certain parts of Chile. About 500 people died and there was massive criticism of the government's response so there's been about 4 years now of preparing and rehearsals and drills, so Chileans regularly do tsunami evacuation drills and the buildings are all supposed to stand 9.0 earthquakes, so Chile is very well prepared for this kind of event. Werman: I read that as a result of this earthquake, about 300 female inmates escaped from a prison, so what exactly happened? Did the faultline just run right through the main gate? Franklin: Surprisingly, we're 12 hours later and details are still very sketchy. There's two theories. One, either there was actually a physical break and the prisoners escaped and the other is that the Chileans were doing prisoner transfer, which is common. There's lots of prisons and lots of hospitals along the coast and so when you have a tsunami alert, you have to get the prisoners and the patients away from possible flood zones, so it's thought, and this is still not confirmed, that it was the beginning of a prisoner transfer which led to the massive break. Werman: In recent weeks, there's been seismic activity all around the so-called Ring of Fire in the Pacific. Chile's quake today seems to represent the biggest of the temblors. How are people there taking all of this? Do they feel another biggie is imminent? Are they talking about? Franklin: Paranoia would not be an understatement. People are really freaking out. There's been probably a month now of very strong tremors and even our quake which measured around 6.7, I believe, in mid-March, so northern Chilean has been shaking and rocking for a whole month, so this has been a topic of gossip and conversation for weeks now. It's still not clear. Was this the big one that puts Chile in the clear for awhile or was this a tremor or a prelude to something even bigger? So there's a lot of nervousness and people really are stocking up on food, stocking up on water, stocking up on gasoline. It's not clear if they're out of the woods yet. Werman: Does that also mean that the government in Chile is putting in extra precautions in case something bigger or as big happens? Franklin: The Chilean government is paying huge attention to this and pouring money into communication systems and early response systems and also practicing and doing rehearsal evacuation drills. It's typical to see 50,000 to 60,000 people being evacuated just in practice drills. You'll see the daycare centers all of something that looks like a big sheet and they'll just pop the kids in the middle of a big sheet and the adults will grab a corner of the sheet and instead of having the kids run up the hill, they'll be carried in what looks like a sack as the teachers run up the hill with the kids. Werman: Jonathan Franklin, reporter with The Guardian in Santiago, Chile. Thanks for speaking with us. Franklin: You're welcome.