I first heard a siren scraming though the business district of Santiago - ¨Sanhattan¨ as some call it, with the echo of impending disaster. This woke me up, barely taking note of the late hour, then the trembling started. Living in Chile makes one accustomed to the earth moving under your feet from time to time. We have had some bad tremors but nothing that continued as long as this one did. Curious that this tremor was actually a quake, and a long awaited one at that. Here is the story of how it happened for us at the office of VM Elite Viajes, 8º floor home office in downtown Santiago on February 27th, 2010.
As dawn broke the evidence of disaster started piling up. The pedestrian walkways over the highways were twisted and mangled, the buckled highways had thrown cars into chasms and several church steeples suffered the brunt of the trembling, fell down completely or tipped to the side, the skewed cross indicating the damage. Despite this damage, the twisted highways, along with a couple of tilted buildings was the worst of it here in the Capital. Initially we thought that all of
We had fallen asleep watching the end of a movie when I heard the siren coming towards our building. With the screaming siren came the shaking that lasted for two minutes. Attempting to run the length of the swaying hallway with the closet doors swinging and banging we reached the entrance to the main hall staircase, only to find we were want of clothing. We just stood there listening to everything crash around us as the first tremor ended and we ran to put on warm clothes and boots, grabbed flashlights and all of our keys, a blanket and we were out the door to the 8º floor dark stairwell, and out into the darkest night. Near our apartment chimneys were collapsed, the bell tower fell off the cathedral and everyone was out in the street huddled around a radio. The nightclubs had been in full swing, two guys crashed on a scooter right in front of us, but fled (drunk) as the police approached.
Most of the towns in the south were, and still are, in terrible condition. Terrible condition means that most of the houses were without a roof for the main supporting walls having fallen down. Some tsunami affected towns were washed away, leaving cars, boats and the remains of people´s lives high up in the hills, as much as 1 to 2 kms inland. What makes all of this worse, is that the affected folks of the poor neighbourhoods were looting the supermarkets for plasma screens and dishwashers...surely you need one of those after your house has just fallen down. By all means, they took with them supplies they needed amongst the rest of whatever they could grab. The looting didn´t stop in the stores after a few days of mayhem. Without the army having been called in to reduce the number of crowds who were looting supermarkets and shops, and then burning a department store, once empty the chaos was turned to target private houses. I remember hearing that people were guarding their property behind the gate with sticks or any weapon they could get, from the mob that came to rob them. They felt helpless after having survived first the quake, then a tsunami...the last thing they needed was to have their own countrymen attack and injure them. I must remind you that these events happened only for a few days, and in the specific zone of Concepcion. This is where the folks were desperate and some groups had indeed been allowed by the Carabineros (police) to take supplies that were badly needed.
Everyone dealt with the difficulties differently. Travelers had to either bus over the Andes to or from Mendoza, Argentina, or stay in hotels that were already busy due to the Festival de Viña del Mar Beach concert that was already in full swing at the time of the quake. Our office is straight across from the Intercontinental Hotel. We could see the same faces in the windows for days, families and teams alike, longing to go home.
For our part we felt very lucky. The quake was said to have been long overdue due to geothermal buildup on the plate´s fault line near Concepcion. They researchers say that this event will quiet the rumbling for some time, up to 200 years from now. So many of my Canadian friends and family want to know if this is scary enough to make me move home. In response I will reply that no, I don´t want to leave here yet. I feel that this experience was, in a way, heartening as it brought together a country of tough hearty folks. Although scary, I was well looked after by my lovely man and business partner Tomás. As we move on from this frightening time, Chile is still collecting clothing, raising money and building homes. I am sad for the families of the 1500 persons whom lost their lives, but encouraged to find a newly reconstructed and improved Chile in the outcome of this disaster.