Earthquake in Chile

by Liz Caskey on February 27, 2010

First of all, thank you guys for all your concern. I am touched and really appreciate it. We are FINE.

Since there’s a general lack of information circulating outside the country right now due to communication, I wanted to post since I am fortunate enough to have internet and electricity. Cell phones are still down but our US line is working.

First, while I can share my accounts please keep in mind these are MY accounts and sentiments and not reporting as a journalist. We are following the local news, TVN, to stay up on the latest information, which I will relay (well, translated) as necessary.

The earthquake hit this morning at 3:34 a.m. and reports put it around 8.3 on the Richter scale. Oddly enough this almost coincides with the 25th anniversary of the last big quake in Santiago on March 5, 1985. At the time, I was sound asleep. My  husband, Francisco, grabbed me as the shaking got stronger and stronger, and had us stand in the strongest structure of our apartment. The shaking went in crescendo and the windows vibrated horizontally with an intensity I have never felt in my life. The building moved so much, it was hard to stand. Books started flying off the shelf, furniture moved FEET away, and our crystal wine glasses starting falling, smashing (like a Greek party) one by one. It felt like an eternity. It was only 90 seconds. The lights went out. Our cats freaked and hid. I was actually very calm. I couldn’t tell you why even though at one point, I clutched my husband and just focused on how it would be over soon and we’d be fine. Maybe living in a earthquake-prone country for 10 years has prepared me with tremors along the way. Honestly, at no moment did I freak out, fear for my life, nor loose faith that I would not be okay nor would the building resist.

It stopped and the building swayed. Funny enough, the one emergency candle we had left, had rolled out of our pantry to us (thank you universe). I had a tremendous sense of calm, although scared, and gratitude for being ok. We cleaned up the mess, found our kitties, and tried to go back to sleep. The aftershocks were strong (some 5.2) and since died down. I feel like a zombie since I tried to sleep but it was hard after all that.

Our building did NOT have damage. The area we are in, fared relatively well. A lot of the damage was inside the house: glasses, dishes, TVs, appliances, glass windows, falling and breaking. That being said, people have been walking dogs, watering the lawns, buying items for lunch, the Transantiago bus just passed by and the garbage man came. This is NOT the case all over the city though. As per TVN news, there is widespread damage in the downtown areas of Barrio Brasil and with older (or shoddily made) buildings. Having lived in Barrio Brasil for 5 years, I can testify to the fact that many buildings from circa 1910-1930 were in very bad condition to begin. With this magnitude, they simply collapsed. A church with damage from the 1985 quake, Basilica del Salvador, had one side crumble. The Fine Arts museum facade had damage.

We turned on the news around 7:30am as the transmissions started. I felt that President Bachelet and the Ministers working with her did an excellent job in conveying what was happening and what needed to happen at an emotional level countrywide. Not creating a state of chaos and panic is critical in reacting in these catastrophe situations.  They were calm, poised, and while very aware of the widespread damage and situation, asked people to remain calm and not leave their houses so they could assess the damage to the roadways (some city highway ramps pancaked, ripples began to occur, and not a lot of functioning stoplights). Obviously, it was not advisable to drive due to a lot of broken glass, obstacles, people in altered moods, and there have been 20-odd aftershocks. The sentiment the government conveyed, for my taste, is that they (and all the officials) were working to the best of their abilities and asked for everyone to collaborate with their neighbors and local mayor as needed. At one point, a journalist asked Bachelet if Chile would need aid. She said “right now, we are assessing and are capable of handling this ourselves”.

My personal sensation is that I live in a very developed country in the way people have responded and measures being taken, despite the situación complicada. This by no means discounts the damage or lives lost that are over 100 now. Near the epicenter near the Maule region around Cauquenes and Concepción, very affected areas, the damage increases and first images come in of the devastation. Many rural homes built with wood and mud simply gave out. In Concepción a rampant fire in the chemistry department of the University caused a huge fire. An apartment building split in two. And now first reports of the sea rushing in and flooding, like the 1960 earthquake in Valdivia, are coming in. On account of a seasoned fisherman in Iloca, evacuated people on holiday upon into the surrounding hills as he knew the ocean would come in. He probably saved their lives (although materially, the place was trashed).

So, I repeat. Yes, there’s a hell of a lot of damage. Yes, there are people dead. Yes, there are material possessions lost. Yes, the hospitals are packed and in the south, they need water, electricity, and medical care. The roads are going to need serious repair. This was a huge earthquake. But the tragedy is the only thing they seem to show on the international news. How about the parts of Santiago like where I am that fared well? What about the fact all my family/friends are fine and this is case of most Chileans. What about all the neighbors who joined in to help their neighbors out of the rubble? How about the community workers joining together to help where needed? It’s not Haiti and it is not all devastation and grim tragedy. There are survivors too. There are people proud to see how prepared the country is/was. I think we need to see both sides and help keep the energetic vibe up. Hope, cooperation, love, faith. There is always some good in the bad, that’s the law of relativity. Right now, we need to join forces and support each other and help disseminate the truth to the world.

I am really thankful to live in this wonderful country. This is a true test of coming together. Chile fortunately is developed and well prepared for this architecturally, structurally, and otherwise. I am awed at the sheer force of mother nature. And now my husband, a seasoned earthquake goer, tells me it is far from over with aftershocks. It’s true, even in the course of writing this, the building keeps jostling, although more gently.  The solution? I could drink tea to continue to stay calm, but maybe a glass of Carmenere is more effective.

I will keep you guys updated. Abrazos from Chile.

{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

Mandi February 27, 2010 at 7:16 pm

Thanks for sharing Liz…it’s been hard getting in touch with friends down there but it’s good to hear your story. And I agree, it’s amazing when you realize this earthquake was stronger than Haiti’s and yet the destruction is probably many times less because of better infrastructure and preparation. Hope this shows governments to take prep seriously and to make sure their people have the best chance they can at surviving this kind of natural disaster. Cuidate mucho!

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Liz Caskey February 27, 2010 at 7:19 pm

I completely agree. Preparedness is key. And not just from the government, businesses are open in downtown Valpo and parts of Santiago. They understand people need gas, food, and supplies and are here to serve others. You know the best part about natural disasters? There’s no other choice than to support and unify. I think Chile really is showing that. Please everyone send all the good vibes you can!

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Valerie Marsalli February 27, 2010 at 8:01 pm

Looking for my family in Santiago – Sam Marsalli – Ximena – Nicole – Paul and Michael – any ideas?

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Liz Caskey February 27, 2010 at 9:19 pm

Unfortunately no. Do you know where they live, what area? There are certain areas of the city that had more problems.

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Liz Caskey February 27, 2010 at 10:15 pm

Have some news for you. Try this site. Was just on local news. It can help locate people locally: http://www.chilefinder.appspot.com
Good luck!!

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Margaret February 27, 2010 at 8:13 pm

Great post Liz! I’ll be posting on our experience soon-thankfully similar to yours and not like folks in the south…

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Helen February 27, 2010 at 11:05 pm

You ARE a first hand, eye witness reporter, Liz. Thank you for taking time and care to let your world-wide friends know what is happening on the ground — at least on your ground. And yes, you’ve reason to be proud of your adopted country which is abrim with some of the warmest, kindest people in the world. The Carmenere is the perfect “tea”! Love to you and all our friends.

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Karen Fisher February 28, 2010 at 5:08 am

Liz,
We’ve never met but your mom and I are first cousins. I am Charlie Fisher’s daugher. I was naturally very worried about you when I heard the terrible news this morning but went immediately to your website to see if you had posted something. Thankfully you had!

If it makes you feel any better, the news media here was reporting this afternoon that, while the damage in some areas is certainly great and many have lost their lives, Chileans have constructed their buildings with earthquakes in mind and that they are well prepared. Facts and images are still relatively limited.

My thoughts and prayers are with you, your husband and all Chileans today. All the best to you.

Karen Fisher

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Dave Shimer March 2, 2010 at 4:52 pm

I have read and reread your account several times. This is D+ 3 or 4 days are things getting back to a sense of normal? Or is it a new phase of issues?????
Whats going on?
Dave Shimer

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beth dubas March 3, 2010 at 8:44 pm

Hi Liz
Glad to hear you are ok.True with the bad comes good.Chile will get through this.

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Delena Gautier April 7, 2010 at 5:38 pm

Im still finding a good ways.,i really enjoy reading your articles very informative.

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