Thousands of families still living in temporary huts after an 8.8
earthquake rocked Chile a year ago today blame President Sebastian
Pinera for not doing more.
Susana Obando Valenzuela sits on the edge of her salmon-colored
couch inside the government-built shack she reluctantly calls home
and remembers the day that changed her life forever.
"One day last year I went to bed and had everything a person
could ever need," she says, her eyes welling with tears. "The next
day I woke up with nothing."
One year ago today, a three-story tsunami washed away Mrs.
Obando's home in Dichato, a small fishing hamlet in southern Chile.
Thousands of families lost everything, while hundreds more perished
in the massive 8.8-magnitude earthquake that shifted Earth's axis
three inches and proved pivotal for the first year of Sebastian
In the aftermath, families like Obando's were moved into leaky,
rat-infested tents provided by international aid organizations, but
by mid-June most of the 4,291 homeless families had been relocated
into one of 75,000 temporary wooden huts. These shelters are looking
more permanent every day for those who lost everything in last
year's quake, and daily frustration over poorly defined
reconstruction plans, water shortages, and shared bathrooms is
morphing into sagging poll numbers for President Pinera.
Pinera was widely praised for taking decisive action when he took
office in the aftermath of the deadly earthquake, but the
conservative leader was greeted by angry residents as he visited the
area this weekend to commemorate the anniversary of the tragedy.
Thousands of demonstrators protested his visit to the regional
capital of Concepcion, shouting "reconstruction now!"
"Don't get me wrong, after living in the tents we were just happy
to have a roof over our heads," says Obando's 25-year-old daughter,
Susana, from her parents home here in Sector 2 of El Molino, which
with 456 families is the largest of Chile's 106 temporary villages
where those who lost their homes in the earthquake and tsunami now
"We feel abandoned," she adds.
New president inherits gargantuan task
Frustration with Pinera's government is palpable in El Molino and
in the nearby industrial city of Concepcion,
A year ago, amid the tumbled buildings, some 6,000 troops
descended upon Chile's second-largest city to quell widespread post-
quake looting and lawlessness. It was against this backdrop that
Pinera took office as Chile's first right-leaning president since
democracy was restored two decades ago.
He inherited a gargantuan task and has addressed some of glaring
weaknesses in the country's emergency alert and response system,
exposed by the earthquake and ensuing tsunami, says Ricardo Israel,
a political analyst at the Autonomous University of Chile.
"[Pinera] did a good job of making the necessary changes to the
emergency system," he says. "And the country was quick to return to
normality compared to other countries who have suffered lesser
Where Pinera fell short
But the administration fell short in other areas, according to
Mr. Israel. Past earthquakes have ushered in sweeping changes in
building design and economic activity, but that has yet to
materialize this time around.
"The economy has continued to grow, but the administration has
failed to provide a grand reconstruction plan," he explains. …