By PASCALE BONNEFOY
Published: May 16, 2013
SANTIAGO, Chile — A judge dismissed an appeal to suspend involuntary manslaughter charges against four government officials accused of failing to issue a tsunami alert after the 8.8-magnitude earthquake that struck Chile in 2010.
“This court believes that not enough was done to avoid the catastrophic results” of the quake, Judge Ponciano Sallés said in his ruling. “Any reasonable analysis would conclude that the risk was greater by not evacuating the population than by doing so,” he said, adding that “information was concealed.”
The investigation into the deaths of 156 people and the disappearance of 25 more during the tsunami seeks to establish responsibility for the confusing and contradictory chain of decisions made by government officials and emergency agencies shortly after the earthquake. The actions resulted in mistaken public assurances that there was no risk of tsunami, despite reports that one had already devastated the Juan Fernández Archipelago in the Pacific, west of the Chilean coast.
The former director of the National Emergency Agency, Carmen Fernández, is accused of providing false information and not issuing a tsunami alert. The former under secretary of the interior, Patricio Rosende, has been charged with “imprudent conduct” in neglecting to warn the population. Both argued that it was up to the navy’s oceanographic service to issue the alert.
According to survivors, many families returned to their homes on the coast after hearing the president at the time, Michelle Bachelet, say on the radio that there was no danger of a tsunami. Raúl Meza, a lawyer for one victim’s family, has formally requested that prosecutors interrogate the former president as a suspect. Ms. Bachelet, who is campaigning for the presidential elections in November, has testified twice, but as a witness.
Three other officials have also been charged but did not appeal. The accusations, filed last year against the seven, include operating with inexperienced personnel, lacking knowledge on the use of technology, leaving shifts vacant at regional emergency agencies and ignoring field reports.
“If the accused had been fulfilling their duties, lives would have been saved,” said the lead prosecutor, Solange Huerta, after the ruling.
A version of this article appeared in print on May 17, 2013, on page A10 of the New York edition with the headline: Chilean Judge Rejects Appeal Of Charges In ’10 Tsunami.