Sunday, February 28, 2010

Chile Earthquake

I have gotten emails and phone calls from friends and family concerned about my family in Chile and the state of the country after a major earthquake hit Saturday morning. Thank you so much for your concern and support, it means a lot to me. Let me start by saying that all my family (parents, sisters and their families, grandmas, aunts, uncles, cousins and their families) are safe. None of them suffered physical injuries or structural in their homes. I’m so grateful for that.
Most of my family lives in Viña del Mar and Santiago chilewhich is about 8 hours from the epicenter of the earthquake, the damage in those cities wasn’t as extensive as it was in Concepcion but not less important. A lot of old buildings and bridges collapsed and the historic neighborhoods are completely destroyed. The devastation is far worse in Concepcion. I’m heartbroken to see my country go through this catastrophe. This has been one of the worse earthquakes in history and it’s a catastrophe of immense proportions.
Saturday morning Randy woke me up with the news of the earthquake, I didn’t think much of it because in Chile we have seismic activity all the time. We are used to the ground trembling. We are prepared for it. But when he told me that it effected Viña del Mar (my hometown) and that it was 8.8 in ritchter scale I started to get nervous. I tuned on the tv and I was shocked to see all the devastation. I immediately tried to call home and find out if my family was OK. I couldn’t communicate with them, the phone lines weren’t working as usual after this kind of event. My brother-in- law Gino informed on facebook that everybody was safe. Thank goodness for technology! But I wanted to know details and talk to my family. I kept trying to get a hold of them. Finally this morning I was able to talk to them and hear their account of what happened.
My youngest sister Laura was out with her fiancé. She was at a club at 3:30 in the morning when the earthquake happened. The club is in the basement of a hotel, with the music they didn’t hear the growling of the earth that always happens before a trembling. They were surprised with the intense movement and they made it safely to the streets. A lot of people were on the streets celebrating the last weekend of summer vacation. Tomorrow Monday was supposed to be the first day of school and college. After the quake, electricity immediately went out and the streets were dark, you could only see thanks to the cars’ lights. Everybody was in panic mode. My mom, dad and my sister Gabriela where in bed sleeping. My mom woke up with the noise that comes before a quake. She said out loud “It’s going to start trembling!” Everything started moving as it usually does, for a couple of seconds and then stops and everybody goes back to bed. Not this time!! The movement got stronger and violent. You could see the walls moving back and forward. My mom made it to the front yard, but my dad and sister said that they couldn’t walk. It was impossible to keep your balance. They stood in their bedroom door holding the door frame and trying to keep their balance. My older sister Viviana (yes, I have a lot of sisters) was sleeping but Gino was awake. When Gino heard the loud noise, he told Vivi to wake up and be ready. Vivi was mumbling back to him to let her sleep. Gino told her to wake up again, when the quake started he just yelled, “Viviana get up!!” They ran to get their son but couldn't make it down the stairs to the living room. The stairs were shaking side to side. It was impossible to go down the stairs. They hugged each other waiting for the quake to be over. My oldest sister Olivia was with her family camping out for the weekend. They were sleeping in their tent when it happened. Fortunately they were in a safe place. I haven’t talked to them but Laura told me that their kids didn’t wake up with the commotion or the aftershocks.
Today things are getting back to normal. They still don’t have electricity and water has been in and out. Thankfully they have a pool and have been able to have water for the bathrooms and share with neighbors. They have gas, so they can cook as normal (people have gas stoves in Chile) and the phone lines are working. I know their situation is not even comparable with what other families are going through. This earthquake is one of the worst tragedies in the last 50 years, it was felt in Argentina and as far away as Brazil. Many cities are in a state of catastrophe. Because we have a long history of major earthquakes; strict building codes that included earthquake-resistant standards helped to save lives. But still, an 8.8 earthquake can be disastrous, they have had more than 50 aftershocks some registering 6.9. In Talcahuano and Concepcion most houses and buildings that were more than 50 years old collapsed killing many people. Minutes after the earthquake a tsunami hit the coast of Talcahuano, leaving hundred of houses under water. This makes me specially sad. I lived in Talcahuano for five years during my teen years. We lived one block from the beach. I have dear friends there and haven’t been able to contact any of them. The situation is very complicated in that area. They don’t have electricity or water,cell phones or land line phones are not working. Families are uncommunicated and people are in panic and distress. They are getting desperate and unruly, they showed on tv a group of people looting a supermarket. People trying to get their hands on some milk, bread, water and diapers. But some men were carrying a plasma tv and a washing machine!! Certainly not an item of first necessity. I can understand the panic of those mothers, but robbing a store when food, shelter and aid is being provided, it is unnecessary. The Army has taken control of the situation and has declared a curfew.
Although Chile is a prosperous country with a strong and organized army, navy, air force, police and fire department. I disagree with Chilean president Mrs. Bachelet on declining or not requesting aid despite offers of assistance from the US, China, the EU, the UN and others. She said that we have the money, capability and resources to take care of the situation and didn’t want aid offers to be "a distraction", adding: "Any aid that arrives without having been determined to be needed really helps very little." I think too much help can’t hurt when there are people trapped under a collapsed building, houses under water, people hurt and others missing. When people don’t have a house anymore, food, water or clothes. Yes, we have it better than other countries but let’s not get prideful.
The death toll stands at 708 and probably will keep rising. More than 1.5 million people have displaced. Please continue praying for Chile.