Thursday, March 11, 2010

Eye-Witness Account of the Chilean Earthquake

Here is the update on my cousin Connor. His initial reaction was only to my aunt feel better. Here's what happened:

Despite the severity of Chile's most recent disaster, I had no idea of the seriousness of what had just happened that morning. Friday night I was out with friends at a party and around 3 am we left to go to a discoteca. We were outside haggling the prices to get in when the floor started to rumble-- we all initially thought it was just the bass from the music, but figured out pretty quickly what was going on when we looked and saw the windows and umbrellas of the restaurant across the patio shaking violently too. We turned back around to a wave of about 200 people rushing out of the one exit of the club with the sound of tiles and glass crashing to the ground behind them.

A friend of mine and I sprinted down the broken escalator, moving from side to side with everything else, got to the bottom and found somewhere that seemed safe to sit down. The earthquake lasted for a full 3 minutes, and I cannot think of a longer 3 minutes in my life. It started with a small rumble and very quickly escalated to full-scale chaos, and for about 30 seconds it definitely felt like the world was coming to an end.

I haven't been witness to many natural disasters-- the worst I'd lived through were a couple hurricanes and some ice storms-- so I can't say much for tornadoes or tsunamis, but I'm pretty sure an earthquake is just about the worst kind of disaster a person can experience. It is a terrible feeling of hopelessness, like on an airplane when the turbulence hits hard and for just a split second you are sure the plane is going down. An earthquake, especially an 8.8 earthquake, is like the worst kind of turbulence hitting everything that is supposed to be solid, safe and concrete, and it feels like it will never end.

Amazingly, since the walls of the mall we were near didn't fall down, the ground didn't split in half and the roofs didn't cave in, we were all left with the impression that it hadn't been as bad as it felt. I was actually surprised in the morning when the metro wasn't running. Santiago, at least where we were, seemed to have held up as if the earth beneath it had never moved an inch, so as far as we were concerned the rest of Chile must have been okay too.

It took until Saturday evening when we went to a family member's house whose electricity was running for me to realize the true extent of the damage. Santiago, whose older and poorer parts were destroyed, looks as good as new compared to pretty much everywhere south of here. Curicó and Talca, towns where I have a bunch of friends, were left with city centers and plazas filled with the rubble that used to be banks, government offices, stores and adobe houses. Concepción, a hugely important port and the second biggest city in Chile was essentially flattened by almost the epicenter of the quake, followed by about a 40 foot tsunami wave. Concepción's smaller neighboring towns were hit by the same tsunami and in Talcahuano it carried a huge fishing boat 400 meters into town, razing everything in its path. The aftershocks have come strong as well, (there was actually one just now as I write this) and in the two days following the initial quake there were over 90 of them, most of which over 5.0 and the strongest of which was about 7.0-- as strong as the disastrous main Haiti earthquake last month. It was only thanks to strict building codes that the majority of Chile was not leveled.

In the rest of his update, he explains that many people are still in need. Two good ways to help out are to send boxes of toiletries to the Red Cross or to send money.

Also, another earthquake hit today. This one was 7.2.

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