Waiting for the Big One in Chile

Earthquake experts say the 8.2-magnitude temblor that occurred just off the northern coast of Chile and left at least six people dead last night was nothing compared to what’s to come:

‘Could be tomorrow, could be in 50 years; we do not know when it’s going to occur. But the key point here is that this magnitude-8.2 is not the large earthquake that we were expecting for this area. We’re actually still expecting potentially an even larger earthquake,’ said Mike Simons, a seismologist at the Geological Survey. Chile is one of the world’s most earthquake-prone countries because just off the coast, the Nazca tectonic plate plunges beneath the South American plate, pushing the towering Andes cordillera to ever-higher altitudes. Nowhere along this fault is the pressure greater than in far northern Chile, an area known as the ‘Iquique seismic gap.’

Newly-elected Pres. Michelle Bachelet, now in her second nonconsecutive term, probably thought she was suffering a terrible case of déjà vu, a 8.8-magnitude earthquake having hit Chile just days before she left office in 2010. More than 500 people lost their lives that time.