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Chileans ponder the future for Chaitén 8 June 2008

Posted by admin in Chaitén, Chile, eruptions, natural hazards.
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Recent pictures of the town of Chaitén (see our earlier three posts) can leave no doubt that the volcano that shares the town’s name has left an awful mess of the place. Earlier comments from government ministers and others implied a reluctance to accept that Chaitén could ever be re-occupied, but recent media reports indicate that the mood has changed, and schemes for the reconstruction of Chaitén, either in its present location or at a site as close to it as possible, are now being discussed.

Certainly it seems clear that the people of Chaitén wish to return to their homes. That is the message from the alcalde or mayor of Chaitén, José Miguel Fritis. In an interview with Radio Cooperativa he says he is in constant touch with the former residents of his town, and that ‘My neighbours confirm that they have a great desire to return. This is an inalienable right, people want to return to Chaitén and it is our commitment that there will be a return to Chaitén. But when? We must act with the prudence that we have acted with until now’. He does not downplay the extent of the devastation in the town. During the last week he brought parties of visitors to Chaitén to show them the situation: ‘Information was being distorted, and there was talk that the problem could be solved by a bunch of people with shovels and wheelbarrows’, he says. ‘They realized that this was not the case.’

The mayor’s remarks on the condition of the town make it clear that he is thinking in terms of Chaitén being rehabilitated, and is working towards this goal. He says that he is working with the Ministry of Public Works on plans to improve the river channels and flood protection around the town, and for new construction in areas unaffected by the current devastation.

Mr Fritis said that the great achievement for him and the governmental teams was that ‘there has not been a single fatality during the volcanic eruption’.

Meanwhile, apparent plans to reconstruct Chaitén as ‘a new Venice’ have been widely reported in Chile over the weekend. El Mercurio reported on 6 June that the Minister of Public Works, Sergio Bitar, the Intende of Los Lagos Region, Sergio Galilea, and Mayor Fritis, had announced that the town of Chaitén would be reconstructed in exactly the same location ‘immediately the volcanic activity has ended’. So far so good, although rebuilding a town destroyed by a volcano in exactly the same place is rarely a good idea. However, Mr Galilea goes on to make it clear that, where other people see a flooded and ruined town, he sees a potential Chilean Venice: ‘Probably now there is no longer one river, but there are three or four [river] branches, therefore, in the most marvellous case of which I dream, the urban base of Chaitén will be like Venice, with many river channels’.

Even in his less dreamy moments, no-one could accuse Mr Galilea of lacking optimism. La Nacion quotes him as saying that Chaitén ‘will be reborn from the ashes, with a bigger and better port, better connectivity … Many times, such tragedies can also be the beginning of great opportunities’. Let us hope that he is right. La Nacion also reports the big promises coming from the Minister of Public Works: ‘here a great opportunity has opened to look at the possibility of doing something completely new, reinforcing what needs to be done to develop new opportunities, combined with infrastructure works across a much wider area, and move forward with the maritime and terrestrial connections with the north and south’.

For all our Chaitén coverage: Chaitén << The Volcanism Blog

Global Volcanism Program: Chaitén – summary information for Chaitén (1508-41)
ONEMI, Oficina Nacional de Emergencia – Chilean government emergencies office (Spanish)
SERNAGEOMIN – volcanology information from the Servicio Nacional de Geología y Minería (Spanish)

Alcalde afirmó que volver a Chaitén es ‘un derecho irrenunciable’ – Radio Cooperativa, 8 June 2008
Chaitén será reconstruido en su actual ubicaciónEl Mercurio, 6 June 2008
Evaluarán reconstrucción de ChaiténLa Nacion, 6 June 2008
Sueñan con la Venecia de Chile en la ciudad arrasada por el volcán Chaitén – Terra España, 6 June 2008

The Volcanism Blog


1. William Wise - 8 June 2008

If one studies the 9th image of the June 5th posting, it looks like the town was built on earlier laharic deposits. These deposits have been exposed by the erosion of the current water and mud flows. It seems to me that any rebuilding should be done in areas not easily prone to flooding from subsequent eruptions.

2. Beano - 9 June 2008

The eruption is ongoing. There will be more Lahars. Some of the half buried dwellings will be fully covered while more dwellings will be lost.
As Alan Sullivan points out on his blog Fresh Bilge, the port has been eliminated. This is the town’s real link to the outside world – unless you want to carry livestock by air.

I admire the resoluteness of the displaced residents however it will be heartbreaking for them to come back and witness the actual damage for themselves rather than via third parties or images.

3. Jorge Romero - 9 June 2008

I´m from chile and i know a lot of geology. I think as an amateur volcanologist it is a very bad situation, and is impossible to reconstruct the city, by the destruction and the danger that it represents. The things have happened in the past or in the present gonna happen in the future, it is a low in geology.
Is a hard situation, but the inhabitants of the chaiten city must be relocated in other place without this kind of natural hazards.

4. Fresh Bilge » Volcanic Venice - 9 June 2008

[…] the latest news from Chile, The Volcanism Blog is remarkably circumspect. Certainly it seems clear that the people of Chaitén wish to return to their homes. That is the […]

5. marivi - 9 June 2008

Maybe it’s difficult to live in chile AND far from a volcano…

This website offers real-time videos of Chaitén volcano:

6. Chileans ponder the future for Chaitén (continued) « The Volcanism Blog - 10 June 2008

[…] Chaitén, Chile, South America, volcanic eruptions trackback Predictions of the creation of a Chilean Venice on the site of Chaitén notwithstanding, offical government statements on the future of the town […]

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