A Voice from the Rubble in Cariaco, Venezuela
In July 1997, seven schools in Cariaco, Venezuela collapsed from a magnitude 7.0 earthquake. Forty-five children died. When our staff investigated one of the schools (Valentin Valiente Elementary School, shown above) weeks after the earthquake, a man told us he had run to the school soon after the earthquake to help the victims. He located his nephew, a student at the school, who called to him from under the rubble. Despite the man’s pleas, local police did not allow him to dig for any trapped children, because search-and-rescue professionals were on the way. Well, they arrived the next day—too late to save the nephew or his classmates.
This story is particularly poignant for us, because two years before this earthquake we had prepared a plan with Venezuelans to reduce the earthquake risk of four cities, including Cariaco. This plan was presented to local government agencies, but the modest funds required to implement it were never approved. Decision makers did not grasp the urgency of preparing for earthquakes, or that such an investment saves lives.
There is no guarantee that implementing our plan would have saved the 45 children. But it might have! Parents could have learned about the danger, emergency workers could have been trained, and the most vulnerable schools could have been strengthened. This approach to earthquake risk is routine in industrialized countries, but not in the world's poorer countries, where it is needed most. We aim to change that disparity, as we help leaders in places like Bhutan, Nepal, Ecuador, Mexico, Pakistan, India, Chile, Indonesia, and Central Asia attain the knowledge and resources to keep people safe. Learn more.