Returning to Chile IV: Into the Heart of Damage

The road from Chillán to Concepción weaves around destroyed bridges and fractured asphalt. Continually along Autopista del Itata, the main highway to the coastal city, traffic is diverted to other lanes for several kilometers at a stretch. It is quite reminiscent of summertime road works in the US.

Concepción, capital of Región del Bío Bío and Chile’s second largest metropolis, bore much of the brunt of the February 27, 2010, earthquake. A damaged apartment building in Barrio Estación. Photo by Lorraine CaputoTwo and a half months later, the earthquake’s evidence is not apparent as busses enter the city’s outskirts. The greatest damage occurred in Barrio Estación, west of the main plaza towards the railroad station. Fires broke out at the Universidad de Concepción and other points in the city. The year-old, 15-story Alto Río apartment building fell onto its side, trapping people in the rubble. Bridges across the Río Bío Bío were sliced. With the jolt, Concepción moved 3 meters to the west. About 60 people died.

Concepción has done an amazing job of cleaning up the city. The most dangerous structures have been torn down. Others are scheduled for demolition. Behind yellow tape and wooden barricades, workers are repairing buildings that can be salvaged.

Concepción is cleaning up the rubble ... Phot by Lorraine Caputo

... and repairing. Photo by Lorraine Caputo

The hotel infrastructure took a hit, but many are once more hosting guests. Concepción has always been a difficult place to find a room, and it is even more so now with the influx of construction workers. Call before to make a reservation, or drop by the Sernatur office on the Plaza for help. The Catedral, Galería de la Historia and Casa del Arte are open once more.

Even though the sidewalks are a maze of buckled and cracked concrete, it isn’t keeping Concepción’s residents from getting on with daily business. During the lunch hour, employees rush to their lunch dates. When school lets out, hoards of students hang out on the plaza. Street vendors are hawking.  On a Friday late afternoon, friends meet up at sidewalk cafés for a pitcher of beer. Some souls stop into the Casa del Arte to check out the latest art exhibit before attending a benefit concert in the foyer for earthquake victims yet in tent cities.


To the north and south of the port city, other villages were hit not only by the quake, but also the tsunami. Talcahuano suffered great damage, but the Talcahuano-Concepción-Laja is running again. Lota’s museums are scheduled to reopen in another two months.

Besides Región del Bío Bío, the other hardest hit areas of Chile were Maule and O’Higgins Regions, including the cities of Talca, Constitución, Pichelemu and Rancagua. The wine industry in this south-central valley zone was also affected. As V!va moves northward into these towns, we’ll check out how things come coming back together for residents and travelers alike.

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