A Month After Brutal Quake, Chilean Scientists Seek Funds

A month after a magnitude-8.8 earthquake rocked Chile, the country's scientific community says it needs millions in aid and wants control over the country's tsunami early-warning system.

The 27 February quake shook laboratories, burned down an important chemistry center, and wrecked an important oceanographic station, potentially setting back Chilean science by years.

The total losses add up to $200 million, according to Scientists Unified for the Reconstruction of Chile, a lobby group formed following the disaster.

The same group said today that it plans to send a list of seven recommendations to Chile's minister of education that it thinks are needed to get research in the country back on track. The list includes additional grants for students whose projects are on hold and an emergency $90 million line of credit so researchers can replace damaged equipment.

"We lost very expensive instruments that you can only buy in the U.S., Europe, or Japan," says Alfonso Droguett, a communications official at the University of Chile.

The recommendations grew out of a meeting held in mid-March in Santiago and that was chaired by Raúl Morales Segura, dean of sciences at the University of Chile. The group now includes the country's leading scientific societies and universities.

The quake shocked Chileans not only because of its immense size but also because of the looting and chaos that followed. And much public anger focused on Chile's navy, which failed to provide an early warning about the tsunami that followed the quake.

Now scientists say they'll also ask the government to give them control over tsunami warnings by creating a new national seismology center. "We want a system where the scientists, not the uniformed people, are in charge," says Droguett.

In principle, such a system would be similar to the one in the United States, where tsunami warnings are handled by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Scientists also want Chile's government to establish a hospital specializing in public health catastrophes, carrying out research, and establishing a countrywide system for triage and treating the wounded.