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Mexican Expert: Quakes in Chile, Haiti Unrelated

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The 8.8-magnitude earthquake in Chile early Saturday was unrelated with the 7.3-magnitude quake in Haiti in mid-January, said a Mexican expert in an interview with Xinhua.

Carlos Valdez, dean of the geological physics faculty of the Mexico National Autonomous University, said the stronger one in Chile, however, may have caused much less damage.

He said the succession of the two strong earthquakes in the western hemisphere was "a sheer coincidence."

The Haiti earthquake was caused by a collision between the Caribbean Plate and the North American Plate, while the quake in Chile, which stands on the circum pacific volcanic belt, was caused by a collision between the Pacific-Nazca Plate and the South American Plate, Valdez said.

The difference between the two quakes was that the Haiti quake, with its epicenter on land, mainly affected onshore infrastructure, while the Chile quake, with its epicenter beneath the seabed, caused tidal waves that have impacts on countries across the Pacific, Valdez said.

He said the Haiti quake caused huge damage to the Caribbean country because local people were unprepared both materially and psychologically,and the poor quality of many buildings aggravated the loss.

However, as Chile was frequented by earthquakes, volcanic activities and tsunamis, its government departments and civilians are far more experienced in coping with disasters, he said.

Of the world's recorded 12 strongest quakes measuring over 8.6 on the Richter scale, four occurred in Chile, including the world's strongest ever 9.5-magnitude quake in 1960.

The quake-prone country has since enacted laws regulating quake-resistance standards of buildings, set up civil educational institutions to improve people's awareness about disaster prevention, and developed fairly self-contained disaster-relief capabilities, Valdez said.

Although earthquake is highly destructive and unpredictable, its damage could be reduced by adopting higher quake-proof standards for buildings and enhancing people's awareness on disaster prevention and rescue, he said, noting that both depend on governments' investment.

A 8.8-magnitude quake rocked central Chile early Saturday, and has killed over 700 people and left hundreds of others missing. Chilean President Michelle Bachelet has declared a "state of catastrophe" in quake-hit areas.

(Xinhua News Agency March 1, 2010)