Chile experienced a series of rather substantial earthquakes over the past several days, culminating in a fairly significant M 6.9 jolt. Well - significant to those of us not living in Chile, that is. As you're about to see, residents of this South American country require their quakes to be quite a bit more substantial before they're impressed.

You may be thinking, "Didn't Chile already have a huge earthquake recently?" It did! Just under two years ago, an earthquake even the locals would admit was pretty serious stuff struck near Illapel, causing a tsunami and some casualties. And as we discussed then, this was just one more in a series of major earthquakes that have shaken things up ever since the Nazca plate started subducting under the South American plate. Even Charles Darwin got to experience Chile's penchant for truly impressive quakes when he briefly visited during his historic voyage.

In our next post, we'll be talking about the neat seismic concept this series of earthquakes illustrates. Today, we're talking to my friend Lori, who's been living in Chile for quite a few years, and is actually the one who first alerted me to the fact there was a whole lotta shaking going on. She was happy to share her experience with you, give you an idea of what it's like to live in a country that makes California look like it barely quivers, and how her cat is managing the excitement. She also has an answer to the exact magnitude at which you can begin to pin the blame for a lapse in housekeeping on the tremors.

Thank you for joining us, Lori!

Dana: How many earthquakes have you experienced since moving to Chile? Did you know what you were in for when you moved?

Lori: According to most Chileans, I have experienced zero earthquakes. Pretty much anything under an 8, they declare to be a temblor, and not really worthy of being called an actual earthquake. From what I gather, the last earthquake was in 2010.

Since I moved here in 2013, there have been three stronger ones, after which the tsunami sirens sounded and the government emergency alert system sent messages to everyone's phones telling them to evacuate to higher ground.

Before I came here to study, I knew pretty much nothing about the country. While I was a student, I experienced a couple smaller temblores and learned about the big earthquakes in the past, so I knew what could happen before I decided to move here after finishing university.

D: Is all this shaking pretty much old hat to the locals?

L: Absolutely. Unless it gets over about a 6.5, most people don't react at all except to look up from what they're doing for a moment and wait to see if it's going to get worse.

D: What's your method for coping with all of these tremors? What plans have you made for staying safe if a larger quake hits?

L: They don't really bother me that much, so there's not much to cope with. I mostly worry about my cat, Emil, because if they're strong enough that things start falling off shelves, he gets really scared. And of course I have to reassure family and friends that I'm alright. After the last strong one in 2015, my mom told me she never thought she'd have to worry about two of her kids in earthquakes while she was raising us all in Iowa! (My brother is in the Navy and has been stationed in Japan for years, so has seen his share of earthquakes as well.)

Image shows an orange tabby cat lying on his back on his owner's lap. Her hand is visible supporting him.
Emil riding out the temblores in Lori's lap. He's such an adorable fraidy cat! Credit: Lori

I have no plan at all in case of a big earthquake. The buildings here are practically earthquake-proof (newer ones are built that way on purpose; older ones have survived some of the strongest earthquakes in the world, so they seem to be pretty sturdy), so the worst that's likely to happen is that I'm without electricity or water for a couple of days. I'm far enough away from the shoreline that, unless there's a huge tsunami, I'm not likely to be affected.

D: Have you reached a consensus on what magnitude an earthquake has to be before we can blame any household messes on it?

L: Well a few things did fall off shelves this time, and I believe it was a 7.1.* I'm only on the 6th floor though; my friends who were higher up when it happened said they could barely stand up because the buildings were shaking so much. So I feel like 6.5 would probably be a good place to settle. I'm not sure how far people will believe me though if I tell them that the earthquake wore all those dirty clothes and then threw them on the floor.**

D: In your experience, which has caused the most damage to your home so far: earthquakes, or Emil?

L: Definitely Emil. Cats and wallpaper do not mix.

 

*Later estimates revised it down to a 6.9, but still. Big enough!

**By the power vested in me by virtue of being a geoblogger, I hereby declare earthquakes of magnitude 6.5 and above responsible for wearing clothes and then tossing them on the floor. They also dirty up all the dishes and then leave them sitting unwashed in the sink, the inconsiderate buggers. Never allow earthquakes above a 6.4 to room with you.