After arriving on the Pacific coast of Chile near the city of La Serena, naturally one of the first things to do is go see the sea. After 4 months in the Andes we were looking forwards to the coast again. So it’s a bit of a shock jumping off the bus in the port of Coquimbo (in the huge bay of same name), to see immediately this warning – Tsunami Hazard Zone.
In fact such signs, and others relating to earthquakes, are all over Chile, and particularly near the coast for the simple reason that Chile experiences a lot of both earthquakes & tsunamis. Indeed on 16 September 2015 following an 8.3 earthquake at sea south west of Coquimbo city, a few minutes later around 8pm a huge Tsunami wave hit the Coquimbo port area, going some 4-5m over the sea wall, and causing huge damage. Other coastal towns/ports such as Valparaiso, Tongoy & Concon also experienced damage & flooding, leaving some 13 dead & 6 missing, and many thousands in damaged homes. (See info, science & news on 2015 in spanish, english, and english again).
Chile sits along the meeting point of the Nazca & South American ‘plates’ and throughout history has been subject to earthquakes as the plates push against eachother. The plates don’t meet in straight lines but in curves, so the nature of the earthquake & its location will determine if their is a tsunami or not, and if there is which areas may be hit by it. So in this case the port of Coquimbo was battered whilst the coast nearer to La Serena, 9kms north, was relatively untouched. So earthquakes are regular here, the 2010 quake of 8.8, a bit further south, was the 6th strongest in the world’s history (over 500 dead), whilst the 2007 quake to the north was relatively weak at just 7.7. Sensibly, Chile is now increasingly prepared for such events and in 2015 evacuated over 1million people. Just as well…on Wednesday 12th April this week Coquimbo ‘felt’ a 4.3 earthquake, just one of many in Chile this week!
Which can make sitting on the beach quite a sobering experience! When we visited Tongoy, 45kms south, on a warm (25 degrees) sunny day there was little sign of the tsunami 20 months ago. Indeed it’s not the holiday season here, so nobody else was on the beach. It couldn’t have been more tranquil. We didn’t chance going into the sea though!