Surviving the Ring of Fire

Pacific Ring of Fire

Pacific Ring of Fire

Surviving the “Ring of Fire” is no easy task.  The recent earthquake in the U.S. in California last Sunday reminds us again that living on or near the Pacific Rim “Ring of Fire” is a bit of a challenge at times.

And no, the “Ring of Fire” is not the one that Johnny Cash sang about, although it’s very cool with its Mariachi horns.  I couldn’t resist putting the link to the song here.

Latin America, specifically Central and South America, shares this “Ring” with North America.  The “Ring of Fire” runs along most of the countries that lie on the coasts of the Pacific Ocean or near it.

Therefore if you’re visiting or living in one of the countries located on the rim; it may require some preparation on your part.

So, how do you prepare yourself for an earthquake event?  How can you avoid an earthquake?  And, how do you survive and cope during and after a major earthquake?  These are important questions when it comes to surviving a major quake.

A Bit of History

Obviously, major earthquakes have a devastating effect upon property and people.  Often, tsunamis accompany these events, so you’re vulnerable if you’re on or near the beach.  Warnings are improving, but as history demonstrates they can come with no warning at all.  You’re probably out of luck if you happen to be on the beach when the wave arrives.

Downtown Managua Destroyed by Major Earthquake December 23, 1972 Photo taken at 3000 ft. Source: USGS

Downtown Managua Destroyed by Major Earthquake December 23, 1972
Photo taken at 3000 ft.
Source: USGS

Latin America has had its share of major quakes.  Major earthquakes can produce long term damage to the economy and health of the region – sometimes permanent.  For example, Managua, Nicaragua had a big one in 1972.

To date, Nicaragua had its largest and most destructive earthquake in 1972. You can read about it in this Hispanicus issue.  The quake leveled downtown Managua and killed thousands of people.  Downtown Managua has not been the same.

There is always additional “collateral damage” too.  One of my favorite baseball players of all time, Roberto Clemente, died in a plane crash while bringing aid to Managua from Puerto Rico.


Hotel Terminal, Guatemala City damaged by quake February 4, 1976 by U.S Geological Survey

Hotel Terminal, Guatemala City damaged by quake February 4, 1976 by U.S Geological Survey

Not only do major quakes bring a lot of immediate destruction, they cause significant economic stress that can shape a country’s destiny for many years to come – the country of Guatemala comes to mind.

A major earthquake struck just outside of Guatemala City on February 4, 1976.  The quake killed over 23,000 persons and damaged much of the fragile infrastructure of the country.  It crippled an already economically challenged society which continues to deal with the lack of adequate infrastructure – i.e. roads, bridges, etc.

1960 Chilean Tsunami slams into Onagawa, Japan by  U.S. Geological Survey

1960 Chilean Tsunami slams into Onagawa, Japan by
U.S. Geological Survey

According to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), Chile experienced the largest earthquake in the world on May 22, 1960 with a magnitude of 9.5.  The town of Puerto Saavedra was completely wiped out by over 30 foot tsunami waves. Thousands died from tsunamis on both American and Asian Pacific shores and millions of dollars of property damage occurred. The USGS has a good article regarding the 1960 earthquake – surviving a tsunami here.

Chile is just now recovering from a major earthquake in April of this year.  The quake was significant enough to create “ripples” in the economy so that the country’s economists had to revise growth rates.

One good thing came from that disaster.  The Chilean government and citizens have worked together to create better contingency plans to handle future such quakes. Practical steps have been taken and realistic procedures have been put into place to meet the next event.

As I was editing this story, two other earthquakes hit Chile last Saturday, August 23th.  One of the epicenters was about 40 miles northwest of Iquique, Chile.  These were not major quakes in regards to loss of life and destruction but they did disrupt some power lines and some roads.  Several thousand residents evacuated the areas.

As a result of Chile’s last major earthquake, I would say that out of all of the Latin American countries that are on the Pacific “Ring of Fire,” Chile probably has the best preparation, warning, and recovery systems at this point.  The other Latin countries are making efforts to catch up with the technology.

According to the USGS, Chile could experience another major quake in the near future.

Prepare Yourself

So far, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) cannot predict when or exactly where an earthquake will hit, but they are narrowing down the conditions in which a major quake may arise.

Surviving the Ring of Fire while living or traveling near these quake areas, requires a good contingency plan.  The USGS website is a great place to start.  Better yet, install the free USGS mobile device app from the Google store.  I installed it on mine and it works great.

According to the USGS website here are the seven steps regarding earthquake safety:

The USGS has a worldwide map you can review to see what’s happening right now. The USGS website records all worldwide current earthquake activity and records it in their database. You can view their world map of activity by going to their database here.  It’s amazing to see how much activity is happening on the planet every day.

Surviving the Ring of Fire is a challenge, but visiting the affected areas of Central and South America is worth the risk.  They are some of the most beautiful places in the world.

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