It would be remiss of me, I think, not to mention something about the earthquake in Chile. I was asleep on the top bunk in a hostal in Santiago. At about 3:30am, so I am told, the earthquake hit. I woke up and the whole building was shaking. This lasted for a few minutes and was not unpleasant. When it stopped I rolled over and went back to sleep. A while later I was woken up by one of the hostal's staff and we were all asked to go outside, like a fire drill. After half an hour or so people went back to bed. It was apparent that the building wasn't falling down and there was little to be achieved by standing around outside. During the remainder of the night there were several aftershocks which felt like being in a gently vibrating bed.

In the morning more of the consequences became apparent. There was a power cut which lasted most of the day and most of the shops and resturants were shut. Russ and I wandered around the town in a search to buy him a bike. Several buildings were quite severely damaged. A few water mains had burst. Generally the damage didn't seem too bad.

On returning to the hostal the power was back on. 20 odd travellers were queueing to use the internet to let thier loved ones know they were ok. The BBC News website had the earthquake as the top news story and the photos were horrific.

The epicentre of the quake was off the coast of Curanipe, about 100km north of Concepción, a city where I had stayed in January. I was offered generous hospitality there by the owner of a bike shop. I am glad that he and his family are ok. Also, as I cycled along the coast from Conception, I met 3 lads from the area out on bikes and we cycled together for a few days. It was great fun, we crossed a river in a fishing boat, we sang songs by a fire and we went to see a chilean band perform in a small beach town, Cobquecura. These guys are also fine. Matias wrote to me and said:

"Nuestra ciudad se encuentra muy dañada y es una pena verla así... sin embargo ya comienza a mejorar todo por aquí... espero que pronto llegue la normalidad...Y todas las playas que recorrimos hoy ya no existen... es una pena pensar que esos lugares tan bonitos desaparecieron..."

"Our city finds itself very damaged and it is a shame to see it like this...however already everything has started to improve around here...I hope that things will be back to normal soon... and all the beaches we visited no longer exist...it is a shame to think that such beautifull places have disappeared"

Many of the small villages I passed along the coast were on gravel roads. These are easily damaged and make them hard to reach. To make matters worse many of the houses are made from adobe bricks that I imagine probably shake to peices fairly easily.

Perhaps worse even than the initial quakes, fires and tsunamis are the human chaos of prison breakouts, looting, riots, arson, vandalism, sexual assults, vigilantism. Intense grief, fear, confusion and panic drive people to extreme actions.

Chile is badly located when it comes to earthquakes. 6 of the 20 strongest recorded have been in Chile including the strongest ever (9.5 in 1960). This quake was 8.8 and the 7th strongest ever. Boffins think it has shortened the length of a day by a microsecond!

So far this year there have been earthquakes in Haiti, Chile, Venezuela, Solomon Islands, California, Hawaii, Japan, Argentina, Taiwan, Sumatra and Turkey. 2010 seems to be a year with bite.

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