Basic Shelters Planned for Chile Quake Survivors

Regional technical advisor for emergencies, Holly Inurreta, is helping with the response to the 8.8 earthquake that rattled Chile on February 27. The following is part of her first-hand account of the response in Chile.

In 1985, an 8.0 magnitude earthquake struck Chile and CRS assisted in that response, 25 years later, I’m seeing firsthand the impact that our work can have over time. Then, much like today, the coast of Chile suffered severe damage. Homes were leveled and people were left sleeping in makeshift camps. With the monetary support of CRS, Caritas Talca designed a model wooden home to respond to the need for shelter. A quarter century later people continue to live in these modest homes, and some have added extra rooms to expand their living space.

It’s summer here, but it was very chilly this morning. In the winter temperatures get below freezing and the rain starts in May. Most of the fallen structures are adobe and when it rains this is going to turn into slushy mud and make things worse. We went to a camp today that was basically a covered basketball court where everyone was staying. One image stuck with me, it was of an elderly woman sitting on a mattress outside flipping through a magazine. That woman and all those people staying in the camp are going to be extremely vulnerable when the temperatures begin to drop. The most important thing we can do in Chile right now is to get people into shelter that is prepared for winter. In a way it is similar to the situation in Haiti, where you are literally racing against time to get people into shelter before the rain starts.

Fortunately the most affected area of Chile also happens to be the main wood producing area for the country. Tree farms abound and pinewood is easily available.

Our original model home blueprints have been improved upon, with insulation and protection against the cold. Caritas Chile has asked all its branches to come up with a shelter option and Caritas Talca is going to use a modified plan for the houses we helped to build in 1985. They are also providing detailed information and blueprints to other affected diocese in Chile, in case they would like to make use of this model.

The idea is to work with local construction companies to pre-fabricate the walls for a 100-square-foot home. This is much higher than the international standards that call for 60-65 square feet for a family of five. Families in Chile are generally made up of about 5-6 people, parents, children, and in some cases a grandparent. It’s really important for the church here to allow people to live with dignity, and that these homes provide separate bedrooms for the children and their parents. Each house will consist of two bedrooms and a small living space. Large pylons will lift the homes about a foot off the ground to help protect the wooden floors from rain and subsequent decay. Once the walls are ready it will only take families a day and a half to construct each house.

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