Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Dear, we have run out of water from the tap. Can you head to the nearest supermarket and loot some? (Earthquake in Chile)

Different country but same story and ramifications.

Chile was hit by a magnitude 8.8 earthquake on 27 Feb 10, killing at least 700 people by last count. As always, the quest for survival has only started for the survivors. Public utilities like water, gas, electricity and telephone are down. Police presence is barely felt but sorely needed as some parts of the country turn into a looters' paradise.

Imagine a densely populated city like Concepcion (the hardest hit major city) and take away all public utilities. You now have a recipe for social chaos. People become desperate when no water comes out of the tap, the food stalls and supermarkets are closed, no lights to reassure the soul at night, transportation is dysfunctional.... When children get cranky from hunger and thirst, parents are invariably driven nuts.

Cops also face the same challenges and need to take care of their families. It will be lucky if half the police force turns up for work.

Not surprisingly, looting starts and spreads. And the number one items looters look for - water (bottled, packaged, canned), food (bread is a favourite), lighting (candles, torches) and fuel.

Remember, electricity is so ubiquitous in our city lives that if it fails, lots of other systems fail (aka systems built upon other systems in Matrix Reloaded). Even if you want to be law abiding and pay for your groceries, you probably can't do so as the ATMs, NETS (or its equivalent in Chile), cash card and credit card machines are down.

Similarly, even if petrol stations are willing to risk opening for business, their pumps can't work without electricity so your vehicle is only left with whatever gasoline remains in the tank. Therefore, we see footage of looters siphoning fuel from underground storage tanks at petrol kiosks, probably using manual or portable electric pumps.

Throw some opportunistic looters going after electronics and non-essential items in the mix and you have an anarchy brewing.

By the way, the above events are happening just on the second day after the quake. Who knows how ugly the situation will degenerate if utilities remain down for a week, 2 weeks?

One other thing - don't count on your hand phones working either. The base stations or switches may be hit by the earthquake itself or they may have shut down due to the lack of power. Heck, even your own mobile may go "low batt" without a power supply to recharge. (Or are you one of the lucky few to have a crank operated mobile charger? Hint, hint. ) In Chile, the government actually sets up a generator in a public area for people to charge their mobiles. Yes, communications is right at the top of the list, next to water, food and lighting. Another concern is even if the mobile network is all and well, you can expect the network to be jammed in the initial hours after a catastrophe. (This happened right after the Sep 11 terrorist attacks.)

Folks, do keep some supplies at home - water especially, food, candles (torches, batteries), first aid items. If you consume soft drinks, why not reuse the PET bottles to store water instead of dumping them? More environmentally friendly too. If you have empty Lock-and-lock containers lying around, fill them with water. Water is not just for drinking, you still need to wash, bathe, cook and even clear your waste in the W.C.

See my previous post on Haiti for a related discussion.

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