May 222015


The 1960 Valdivia earthquake or Great Chilean earthquake occurred on this date in 1960. It was the most powerful earthquake ever recorded, rating 9.5 on the moment magnitude scale. It occurred in the afternoon (19:11 GMT, 15:11 local time), and lasted approximately 10 minutes. The resulting tsunami affected southern Chile, Hawaii, Japan, the Philippines, eastern New Zealand, southeast Australia, and the Aleutian Islands.

The epicenter was near Lumaco, approximately 570 kilometres (350 mi) south of Santiago, with Valdivia being the most affected city. The tremor caused localized tsunamis that severely battered the Chilean coast, with waves up to 25 metres (82 ft). The main tsunami raced across the Pacific Ocean and devastated Hilo, Hawaii. Waves as high as 10.7 metres (35 ft) were recorded 10,000 kilometers (6,200 mi) from the epicenter, and as far away as Japan and the Philippines.


The Valdivia earthquake affected all of Chile between Talca and Chiloé Island, more than 400,000 square kilometers (150,000 sq mi). Coastal villages, such as Toltén, disappeared. At Corral, the main port of Valdivia, the water level rose 4 m (13 ft) before it began to recede. At 16:20 UTC-4, a wave of 8 m (26 ft) struck the Chilean coast, mainly between Concepción and Chiloé. Another wave measuring 10 m (33 ft) was reported ten minutes later.

Hundreds of people were already reported dead by the time the tsunami struck. One ship, Canelos, starting at the mouth of Valdivia River, sank after being moved 1.5 km (0.93 mi) backward and forward in the river; its mast is still visible from the road to Niebla. A number of Spanish-colonial fortifications were completely destroyed. Soil subsidence also destroyed buildings, deepened local rivers, and created wetlands in places like the Río Cruces and Chorocomayo, a new aquatic park north of the city. Extensive areas of the city were flooded. The electricity and water systems of Valdivia were totally destroyed. Witnesses reported underground water flowing up through the soil. Despite the heavy rains of 21 May, the city was without a water supply. The river turned brown with sediment from landslides and was full of floating debris, including entire houses. The lack of potable water became a serious problem in one of Chile’s rainiest regions.


The earthquake did not strike all the territory with the same strength; measured with the Mercalli scale, tectonically depressed areas suffered heavier damage. The two most affected areas were Valdivia and Puerto Octay, near the northwest corner of Llanquihue Lake. Puerto Octay was the center of a north-south elliptical area in the Central Valley, where the intensity was at the highest outside the Valdivia Basin. East of Puerto Octay, in a hotel in Todos los Santos Lake, piles of plates were reported to have remained in place.

Two days after the earthquake Cordón Caulle, a volcanic vent close to Puyehue volcano, erupted. Other volcanoes may also have erupted, but none was recorded due to the lack of communication in Chile at the time. The relatively low death toll in Chile (estimated at 6,000) is explained in part by the low population density in the region, and by building practices that took into account the area’s high geological activity.


The earthquake was a megathrust earthquake resulting from the release of mechanical stress between the subducting Nazca Plate and the South American Plate, on the Peru–Chile Trench. The focus was relatively shallow at 33 km (21 mi), considering that earthquakes in northern Chile and Argentina may reach depths of 70 km (43 mi). Subduction zones are known to produce the strongest earthquakes on earth, as their particular structure allows more stress to build up before energy is released. Geophysicists consider it a matter of time before this earthquake will be surpassed in magnitude by another. The earthquake’s rupture zone was 800 km (500 mi) long, stretching from Arauco (37° S) to Chiloé Archipelago (43° S). The rupture velocity has been estimated as 3.5 km (2.2 mi) per second.

The earthquake triggered numerous landslides, mainly in the steep glacial valleys of the southern Andes. Within the Andes, most landslides occurred on forested mountain slopes around the Liquiñe-Ofqui Fault. Some of these areas remain sparsely vegetated while others have naturally developed more or less pure stands of Nothofagus dombeyi. These landslides did not cause many fatalities nor significant economic losses because most of the areas were uninhabited, with only minor roads.

One landslide caused destruction and alarm following its blockage of the outflow of Riñihue Lake. About 100 km (62 mi) south of Riñihue Lake, landslides in the mountains around Golgol River caused this river to dam up; when it burst through the earthen dam, it created a flood down to Puyehue Lake. The Golgol landslides destroyed parts of international Route 215-CH, which connects to Bariloche in Argentina through Cardenal Antonio Samoré Pass.


Earthquake-induced tsunamis affected southern Chile, Hawaii, Japan, the Philippines, Hong Kong, eastern New Zealand, southeast Australia and the Aleutian Islands. Some localized tsunamis severely battered the Chilean coast, with waves up to 25 m (82 ft). The main tsunami crossed the Pacific Ocean at a speed of several hundred km/h and devastated Hilo, Hawaii, killing 61 people.

The Chilean coast from Mocha Island (38º S)and to Aysén Region (45º S) was devastated by a tsunami. Across southern Chile the tsunami caused a huge loss of life, damage to port infrastructure and the loss of a large number of minor boats. Further north, the port of Talcahuano did not suffer any major damage, only some flooding. Some tugboats and small sailboats were stranded on Rocuant Island near Talcahuano.

After an earthquake in Concepción the day before, people in Ancud sought refuge in boats. A carabinero (police) boat, Gloria, was towing a few of these boats when the second earthquake struck on 22 May. As the sea regressed Gloria became stranded between Cerro Guaiguén and Cochinos Island. The stranded boat was wrecked when a tsunami wave came and engulfed it. The small port of Bahía Mansa had all of its new infrastructure destroyed by the tsunami that reached heights of up to 10 m. The boat Isabella that was at that time in Bahía Mansa quickly left the port but suffered the loss of its anchors.

In Valdivia River and Corral Bay several vessels were wrecked due to the earthquake, among them Argentina, Canelos, Carlos Haverbeck, Melita and the salvaged remnants of Penco. Canelos was anchored at Corral and filling a cargo of wood and other products destined to northern Chile when the quake struck. The engine of Canelos was warmed up in view of these events. After hours of drifting around in Corral Bay and Valdivia River the ship was wrecked and abandoned by its crew at 18:00. Two men on board of Canelos died. As of 2000 the remnants of Canelos were still visible. Santiago, another ship anchored at Corral at the time of the quake, managed to leave Corral in a bad state but was wrecked off the coast of Mocha Island on 24 May. The schooner La Milagrosa departed from Queule on 22 May to load a cargo of Fitzroya wood shingles in a small port south of Corral. La Milagrosa was battered by the currents and waves of the tsunami for four days while moving south. Outside Corral the crew rescued six nearly unconscious and dehydrated minors on board of two boats. The boats found were used to navigate in Valdivia River and Corral Bay but had drifted into the high sea.


At the coastal town of Queule a carabinero reported hundreds of people to be dead or missing some days after the tsunami. Historians Yoselin Jaramillo and Ismael Basso report that people in Queule decades later know about 50 people to have died because of the earthquake and tsunami.

A seiche (standing wave) of more than 1 meter was observed on Panguipulli Lake following the earthquake. A seiche also occurred in Nahuel Huapi Lake, on the Argentinean side of the Andes, more than 200 km away from Valdivia. The wave, most likely produced by an earthquake-triggered sediment slide at the lake bottom, killed two people and destroyed a pier in San Carlos de Bariloche city.

During the earthquake, several landslides west of Tralcán Mountain blocked the outflow of Riñihue Lake (39°45′00″S 72°30′00″W). Riñihue Lake is the lowest of the Seven Lakes chain and receives a constant inflow from the Enco River. The blocked San Pedro River, which drains the lake, passes through several towns before reaching the city of Valdivia near the coast. Because the San Pedro River was blocked, the water level of Riñihue Lake started to rise quickly. Each meter the water level rose was equivalent to 20 million cubic meters, which meant that 4,800 million cubic meters of water would release into the San Pedro River (easily overpowering its flow capacity of 400 cubic metres (14,000 cu ft) per second if it rose above the final, 24-meter-high dam. This potential disaster would have violently flooded all the settlements along the course of the river in less than five hours, with more dire consequences if the dam suddenly broke.

About 100,000 people lived in the affected zone. Plans were made to evacuate Valdivia, and many people left. To avoid the destruction of the city, several military units and hundreds of workers from ENDESA, CORFO, and MOP started an effort to control the lake. Twenty-seven bulldozers were put into service, but they had severe difficulties moving in the mud near the dams, so dykes had to be constructed with shovels from June onwards. The work was not restricted to the lake; drainages from other parts of the Seven Lakes were dammed to minimize additional flow into Riñihue Lake. These dams were removed later, with the exception of Calafquén Lake, which still retains its dam.

By 23 June, the main dam had been lowered from 24 to 15 m (79 to 49 ft), allowing 3,000 million cubic meters of water to leave the lake gradually, but still with considerable destructive power.


On 24 May, 38 hours after the main shock of the 1960 Valdivia earthquake, Cordón Caulle began a rhyodacitic fissure eruption. Being located between two sparsely populated and isolated Andean valleys, the eruption had few eyewitnesses and received little attention by local media, which was preoccupied with the severe and widespread damage and losses caused by the earthquake. The eruption fed a 5.5 km long and N135° trending fissure where 21 individual vents have been found. These vents produced an output of about 0.25 km3 DRE (dense rock equivalent) both in form of lava flows and tephra (volcanic ash). The eruption ended on 22 July.

In the coastal village Collileufu, native Lafkenches (Mapuche) carried out a ritual human sacrifice during the days following the main earthquake. Collileufu, located in the Budi Lake area, south of Puerto Saavedra, was in 1960 highly isolated. The community had gathered in Cerro La Mesa, while the lowlands were struck by successive tsunamis. Juana Namuncura Añen, a local machi (shaman), demanded the sacrifice of the grandson of Juan Painecur, a neighbor, in order to calm the earth and the ocean. The victim was 5-year-old José Luis Painecur, an “orphan” (huacho) whose mother had gone to work as domestic worker in Santiago and left her son under the care of her father.The sacrifice was learned about by authorities after a boy in the commune of Nueva Imperial denounced to local leaders the theft of two horses; these were allegedly eaten during the sacrifice ritual. Two men were charged with the crime of murder and confessed, but later recanted. They were released from jail after 2 years. A judge ruled that those involved had “acted without free will, driven by an irresistible natural force of ancestral tradition.” The story was mentioned in a Time magazine article, although with little detail.

The cuisine of Chile bears some resemblances with that of Argentina (and other Latin American countries), and in some respects is unique because of its diverse geographical regions producing a wealth of ingredients from the lofty Andes to the long Pacific coastline. One of the great comfort foods of Chile and Argentina is pastel de choclo, a kind of pie baked in individual earthenware pots, called a paila. It has a meat filling with olives and boiled eggs, and topped with a basil scented corn pudding.

The Argentinian poet Florencio Escardó wrote the following ode to pastel de choclo, published in 1876:

Y ya lo creo!
¿Habrá cosa mas rica que una humitaen chala?
¿Qué les parece á ustedes una mazamorra con leche que haya sido traída desde cinco leguas en el tarro, del lechero?
Y díganme con franqueza, ¿hay cosa mas deliciosa que un pastel de choclo?
¡Si es cuento largo el enumerar las cosas ricas que se hacen con el maiz!

You won’t find this dish in restaurants in Argentina. Not sure about Chile. This is pure home food.


Pastel de Choclo


500 grams fresh sweetcorn kernels
1 handful fresh basil leaves
salt to taste


500 grams chopped beef, or beef and chicken mixed
1 tbsp olive oil
2 medium white onions, peeled and coarsely chopped
2 tsp ground cumin
1 tbsp hot paprika
2 large hard-boiled eggs, sliced
2 tablespoons raisins
1 handful black olives, pitted and sliced
3 tbsp granulated sugar


Process the corn, basil, and salt until it is a mealy paste. Add a little milk if it is dry but do not make it too wet. Set aside.

In a heavy skillet over medium-high heat, sauté the onion until it takes on some color. Add the meat, paprika and cumin and thoroughly brown.

Divide the meat among 4 deep earthenware bowls set on a baking tray. Top with sliced egg, olives and raisins.

Pour the corn on top to form a crust.

Bake in a 400°F oven for 20 minutes. Remove and turn on the broiler. Sprinkle the tops with sugar and place under the broiler for a few minutes until the tops are amber and bubbling.

Then slice up a couple of boiled eggs and lay the slices upon the meet and onions, together with some black olives and raisins. Pour the sweetcorn paste as a third layer, and off to the oven for 15 min.

Serve with ensalada mexcla (lettuce, tomato, and onion.

 Leave a Reply

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>



This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.