How Chile weathered one of the greatest natural disasters in recent history.
In 2010 an 8.8 magnitude earthquake wracked Chile—the sixth-largest quake in the world since 1900. NASA estimates that the event moved Chile’s capital, Santiago, eleven inches to the West, and even tilted the Earth’s axis by three inches. On the ground, the shocks killed hundreds, displaced millions, and devastated nationwide infrastructure—schools, hospitals, roads, homes, and businesses—across a vast swath of the country’s midsection, paralyzing the country for weeks. Occurring at the twilight of Michelle Bachelet’s presidency, just days before the inauguration of Sebastián Piñera, Chile found itself in the grip of national catastrophe just as the nation’s top political leadership was in a period of transition.
Circumstances were dire, the outlook was bleak, and the barriers to recovery seemed staggering—yet, within six weeks, all of Chile’s schoolchildren had returned to classes; by the end of the year—despite sustaining economic damages equivalent to one-fifth of the country’s total GDP—Chile’s economy was back on track, delivering a strong 6 percent annual growth rate at a time when the world economy was still reeling from the 2008 financial crisis. Chile’s restoration proved so swift and robust that it garnered accolades from the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) who later that same year extended an invitation to Chile to become a full member of its trade forum.