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Published: Thursday, 3/4/2010

Chile's quake

AMERICANS' hearts go out in sympathy to the victims of the earthquake last week in the Concepcion area of Chile. This tragedy came less than seven weeks after the Jan. 12 earthquake in Haiti. Geologically, the two disasters in sequence are probably not an accident. The Earth is shifting. The Haiti and Chile quakes will be followed by others.

What the two earthquakes have in common are the destruction and misery they caused. What is different is the two countries' ability to respond to what occurred, and to try to remedy the damage to people and property.

Chile, with a population of 16.6 million, ranks with countries such as the Czech Republic and Malaysia in terms of the strength of its economy. Haiti, with 9 million people, is by contrast the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, plagued for years by bad government and severe underdevelopment.

That doesn't mean that Chile doesn't need help. It has asked the United States for assistance with communications and field hospitals.

With its earthquake preceding Chile's, Haiti has had first cut at the attention of governments and other organizations that respond in such situations.

One of the elements in Chile and Haiti that will need close oversight is reconstruction. It must be done in a way that will make the countries less vulnerable to future cataclysms.

Chile already had a strict building code that was supposed to assure that structures survived earthquakes. Haiti's building codes reflected the shambles throughout Haitian society.

When it comes to reconstruction funds, international providers have not only a right but also a duty to see that new buildings are constructed and repairs to existing structures are made in anticipation of future earthquakes. Even so, the people of both countries deserve all the help that big-hearted Americans can provide.

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