Returning to Chile V: Further into Earthquake’s Heart

All along Ruta 5, the Pan-American Highway north of Chillán, detours become more common. North-bound traffic is re-routed around downed bridges and shored-up overpasses. At Retiro, almost due-east of the epicenter, south-bound travelers get their turn to weave around buckled pavement and disappeared lanes. For kilometers, the countryside is lined with piles of dumped rubble, collapsed adobe farmhouses, barns that collapsed like houses of cards and mangled metal grain silos.

The rubble-laden streets of Talca. Photo by Lorraine Caputo

Talca, capital of Región del Maule, took a hard hit from the earthquake. The streets have a post-battle air about hem. Rubble of the many historical adobe buildings that went down yet piles high.


The destroyed zone is quite extensive, from 8 Norte to 4 Sur and from 11 Oriente to 4 Poniente. There were eight deaths and 4,000-5,000 Talquinos left homeless.

Many institutions, like Conaf, had to find new quarters. Santander Bank met an inglorious fate, with caved-in roof and splintered walls. Sernatur’s new place to hand out its maps and pamphlets is at the post office across the main plaza.

Most churches toppled, including Corazón de María, San Francisco de Pompeya and the Salesian’s María Auxiliadora, among others. The Cathedral was damaged but has reopened. The Museo Bomberil Benito Riquelme and Museo O’Higgiano y Bellas Artes are closed indefinitely. In the interim, The O’Higgiano Museum is showing temporary exhibits across the street at the Casa del Arte Galería Gabriela Pando.

Villa Cultura Hilquilemu was roughed up. It is uncertain when it may reopen. Wineries suffered significant losses of export-quality wines when casks split open. Of the bodegas near Talca, only Viña Balduzzi is open for visits.

The old market …. Photo by Lorraine Caputo

  The Mercado Central bit the dust, but that hasn’t driven its vendors and eateries out of business. Many have set up make-shift stalls behind the ruins, along Calle 1 Norte. About 60% of the city’s restaurants were wrecked. Another hard-hit tourism sector is lodging. Approximately 50% of Taquino hotels no longer exist. Those that are open fill up quickly. Reservations are necessary.




Not only was the highway between Chillán and Talca wracked, but also the rail lines. The quake caused the land to sink, destroying the railbed and twisting tracks. Near Retiro, an overpass collapsed across the rails, taking out the powerlines for the electrified train. Many stations are in shambles. Talca’s station is in sad sorts as well, But on the patio to the right of the depot is the provisionary ticket window and waiting room tent. Trains are once more running northward to Santiago thrice daily. The famous school-bus-on-wheels to Constitución has been restored as far as González Bastias. All services should be back on line by July.

Constitución and other coastal communities were utterly wiped out by the post-quake tsunami. The majority of deaths related to the February 27 event were caused by the tidal wave. In Constitución, no hotels or restaurants are left. Meals are available at the market. Fishing has resumed. Sernatur predicts that by the mid-September Fiesta Patronales, tourism will once more be viable in Constitución and all along the coast. The natural rock formation Piedra de la Iglesia was unaltered.

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