The earthquake in Chile

If you need help in Santiago, please call 568 12 95 for an ambulance. The usual emergency numbers of 131, 132 and 133 are overwhelmed.

Well, THAT was exciting! By now, the news of the 8.8 earthquake that hit Chile at 3:30am local time has traveled the globe. It’s amazing how technology has gotten details from this little country at the end of the world out to every other corner of the planet so quickly. According to one friend, I beat CNN by half an hour with my first Tweet, before our internet and phone service went out for the first half of the day.

To be perfectly honest, Rodolfo and I didn’t realize how strong it was. This isn’t a case of wanting to sound cool and collected after the fact – that same Tweet will show you that I was in fact making light of the situation before the shaking had completely stopped. I’m not sure if we were half asleep or if our building is just ridiculously well built, but we thought it was probably a 6. From what I’ve heard, it was more like an 8.3 in Santiago. I think in my case, I also had an incorrect idea of what “a big one” felt like. The last serious earthquake I was in was Loma Prieta in 1989 in California. I was 4, and I remember it being INSANE shaking, probably because I was smaller and more scared at the time. So this in comparison didn’t match up to what I remembered. We woke up but didn’t get out of bed since the only thing that could have fallen on us was our light fixture, which is over our feet. Luckily my dad and Jane, down the road at their hotel, weren’t as relaxed about it – they got into the door frame before the picture hanging over their bed crashed down onto my dad’s pillow, sending glass everywhere.

It was LONG. As in almost 2 minutes long, which is a hell of a long time to be shaking. The only thing I wanted to do was turn on the light, but Rodolfo didn’t let me since if our light did fall, we didn’t want the potential problem of electric wires. Smart one, that boy. We held hands, while Lola cuddled up to us, until it finally stopped, and then we got up to survey the damage with a flashlight, since the power was out. We were SO lucky. Nothing fell. Not the TV, not lamps, not pictures. Not even a glass. We have some pretty impressive cracks in the walls, but they’re superficial, nothing a little plaster and a new coat of paint won’t fix. I need to check our home insurance to see what steps to take, but I just couldn’t quite summon the energy today.

Crazy though it now sounds, we decided to go back to bed. I sent Jane a text message but didn’t call because I figured if they’d managed to go back to sleep I didn’t want to wake them up. HA! Our conserje came up to check on all the apartments, and a few minutes later he called to say Dad and Jane were downstairs. We went down to find them and many of our neighbors all hanging out. Our building has a generator, so the lights were on, and one couple had a radio through which we learned that the epicenter was somewhere in the south, in the Bio Bio Region. Rodolfo was lucky enough to get through to his parents, and that was when we did get a bit scared. They were on vacation in Iloca, a town on the central coast. When we got through, they were on a hill along with everyone else in the town because of the worry of tsunamis. As Rodolfo was talking to his dad, the wave came in. From what they saw, they thought that all their belongings in the house they’d rented and their car had probably been washed away, but at least they were ok.

Around 5, we went back to bed. Dad and Jane said they didn’t sleep, but we did. I’m sorry, I know that’s anti-climatic, but we were tired! We’d gone to bed at 2, and Rodolfo had to get up at 6:30 to go to Mendoza, Argentina. All this handball he’s been doing has been an attempt to make the national team for the Juegos ODESUR in Colombia at the end of March. Because the coach is new, he wants to see all the players in a game before making any decisions, so Mendoza was Rodolfo’s chance to shine. The team left Thursday, but since Dad and Jane arrived that day we agreed he’d fly in to play the games today and tomorrow. That didn’t go so well.

By 6:30 we had TV, and Jane had called to say that a fellow hotel guest had just returned from the airport. He’d been on a plane when the quake hit, and because the plane suffered damage they’d all been sent back. He said the terminal was hard hit and the airport was closed. On TV, the intendente de Santiago and someone from the Ministry of Public Works both said the airport terminal was in bad shape, but they didn’t mention whether the airport was functioning or not. LAN and the airport were both unreachable, since by this time although we had a phone signal, no calls were connecting. Rodolfo’s taxi driver said he’d heard on the radio that the airport was open, and in the spirit of doing all he could, Rodolfo went to the airport. He was back by 8:30 – the airport was decidedly closed, although we didn’t see that mentioned on the news until 9:15 when they said that it would be closed for at least 24 hours. The last I saw (on newspaper El Mercurio’s website) is that it will be closed for 72 hours. The air traffic control towers, runways and everything having to do with actually operating planes are all fine, but the terminal is in shambles. We just saw pictures on the news, and aside from a walkway having collapsed, all the ceiling tiles fell everywhere, so they have no way to deal with passengers in terms of check in, customs, or immigration. My maid of honor was supposed to arrive tomorrow for our wedding in a week – we’re now hoping that everyone will be able to arrive on Thursday, although it’s not certain.

At this point I went to the hotel to meet Dad and Jane while Rodolfo slept off his disappointment and frustration. This may well be the end of his chances at making the team this time around. Ok, most boring earthquake story ever, all we’re doing is sleeping so far! But honestly, from what we’ve seen in Santiago, the damage was incredibly minor considering the force of the quake. A freeway overpass collapsed with I believe 7 cars on it, but from what I’ve heard no one was seriously hurt. Other fires and building collapses occurred, but there were few fatalities and injuries – out of the 8 deaths they were initially reporting in Santiago, 5 were from heart attacks. It was a very strange day because nothing was open, but personally we also weren’t suffering. My dad needed something from a pharmacy, and Rodolfo drove around for an hour until he found ONE that was open – Farmacias Ahumada on Portugal by the Posta Central, if you need it. He also took advantage to fill up the scooter, and he said that really the only thing that was open were the gas stations, which were all full.

The scariest photos and stories are coming from the coast. Iloca was hard hit, although my in-laws were lucky. Their car had been moved several meters and had water in it, but it wasn’t washed away, and they were able to start it and get to other family members in Curicó. Curicó has suffered lots of building collapses, including the Iglesia San Francisco, the oldest church in Chile, but as far as we know family is all ok. The photos from Valparaíso that they’re showing on the news show more water and collapsed buildings.

We lost phone communication for most of the day, and our house phone is still dead, although internet and cell service came back in the early afternoon. Our building is still without electricity, although some apartments are connected to the generator. We’re one of the lucky ones, and we’ve had electricity since we woke up at 6:30.

now we’re still hearing news from other parts of the country. Concepción was near the epicenter and was hard hit along with the coastal areas. Right now the death count is up to 214 and growing. Apparently this earthquake was 900 times stronger than the one that hit Haiti. Although it’s definitely left its mark, you have to appreciate the quality of construction for preventing a worse catastrophe. We’ve been having pretty strong aftershocks all day, and even when it’s still I feel like it’s shaking, similar to feeling like you’re still at sea even once you’re back on dry land. Rodolfo’s phone connection through Movistar is pretty solid, but mine through Entel is still dropping calls left right and center. Hopefully tomorrow things will have settled down, and we’ll have more information about what problems there are and when they can be expected to be solved.

For now, I think it’s bedtime – we’ve had a big day!

13 Responses to “The earthquake in Chile”

  1. weezermonkey says:

    A big hug for you, your friends, and your adopted country.

  2. Andrea says:

    I'm envious you slept. I haven't at all and doubt I will. My experience for whatever reason was far more traumitizing…

  3. Robert says:

    didn't realize the wedding was so soon, what crazy timing to have the airport out of commission! thanks for the news on the earthquake. very interesting to hear what happened from your point of view. glad you guys are safe & that the damage in your area was minimal.

  4. Nanette says:

    Wow! What a tale (even if you don't think it's super exciting)! I hope everything calms down in time for your wedding, and I hope the casualties and aftershocks remain few.

  5. Andi says:

    Thanks goodness you and R are okay. I thought of you and Kyle the second I heard about the quake this AM! I hope that this won't effect your wedding too much, if it does just keep reminding yourself that you are blessed to be alive! What a powerful post…

  6. Anonymous says:

    Brilliant blog! Hope the quake doesn't disrupt your wedding beyond repair. Long life and happiness to you both,


  7. Fned says:

    WOW! What an insane day!! SO glad things are much better than what they were first reporting on the news here. Sorry about Rodolfo's botched plans to meet up with his handball team in Mendoza, but on the other hand perhaps it's a good thing that you guys stick together as I imagine there is going to be a lot of reorganizing and reshuffling to do with the wedding so near and all this going on at the same time!!

    Keep safe!!

  8. DRL says:

    Glad you are ok!!!!!

  9. Heidi M. says:

    Great post! I'm an American, adopted from Chile and I have family there I haven't heard from yet, so I'm worried. Stay safe, and keep up the good blogging :)

  10. Lorena! says:

    So thankful you're safe! I've been reading everything I can. Let me know if there's anything you need:)

  11. Laura says:

    Wow, I am amazed, it seems things went to normal quickly there. It was huge here just 40 miles se of Santiago, very loud…the earth roared…terrifying but everyone fine. i will never sleep the same again, many aftershocks and I awaken each time and wait…

  12. I ran accross your blog several weeks ago and really liked reading your views and experiences on living in chile. I'm glad to know that you and your loved ones are okay. I am thank-you for writing the posts on the earthquake. I am from Chile originally (moved to the States when I was 8 yrs old, so it sbeen 20 years now), but I still have a lot of family in Santiago and the surrounding areas. Due to the phone lines being down we have only gotten enough information to know that they are all safe and doing okay. As weird as it sounds, it helps to have read someone's personal account of the situation. Thank-you again, and I hope that things calm down enough for you to truly enjoy your upcoming wedding.

  13. amber says:

    I'm so glad you guys are all okay. {{hugs}}

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