Purpose: The purpose of this paper is to present the findings of a qualitative and exploratory study aimed at learning more about the local forms of resilience that emerged in two localities (one rural and one urban locality) in Talcahuano, Chile, in response to the major earthquake and devastating tsunami that hit them on February 27, 2010. Design/methodology/approach: To ensure that people’s experiences remained leading throughout the study, data were collected in the field by the first author over a period of 13 months using a variety of qualitative methods. The primary methods were observation, participation and semi-structured interviews with a variety of actors, ranging from community members to local leaders and emergency professionals. For the analysis, a scheme was used that categorizes manifested resilience using two dimensions: damage and responsiveness. Since this scheme has been mostly used to evaluate tree populations, it was adapted to fit the appraisal of a social system. Findings: The findings suggest that damage levels in the two communities were similar, but that the responsiveness was not. One locality revealed high levels of resilience, while the other exposed increased susceptibility to future similar events. Originality/value: This research initiative was relevant because it exposed actual resilience. Also, the specificities of the findings enable insights about prevalent vulnerability, in particular the local capacity of response, and that can be used to elaborate concrete earthquake/tsunami disaster scenarios and design local disaster risk reduction interventions.