When the earthquake hit Chile, my husband and I were at the coast, in Concón (this is the final weekend of summer). We were in an apartment on the eighth floor of a building on a cliff overlooking the sea – all very nice, but man, does that shake, rattle and roll unnerve you at 3:35am.
The thing about seismic activity is that you never know when it will start – nor when it will stop – so you don’t know if you should just roll over and go back to sleep or get the hell outta Dodge … we got out. This one seemed to last an eternity – they say it was a full minute, which by seismic terms is pretty much an eternity.
Fortunately there was a full moon, so we could see a where we were going. Everyone from the building went downstairs into the parking lot. We could get some radio signals in our cars, but had no cell phone signal for several hours. Although Twitter worked for the first five or 10 minutes, so I was able to find out about people from several areas around the country, and my daughter could deduce that we were ok, we lost the signal very quickly. It made for a long night. (My daughter only signed up to Twitter this morning because she knew that I would send a tweet – and that was the only way she could get info on me.)
There have since been aftershocks and more aftershocks (the seismologists say to expect them for the next couple weeks – again, you never know how hard or long they will be). So you start to get skittish …
We decided to come home to Santiago this morning. Ironically, Santiago was harder hit (8.5, while the central coast was 7), but here we have lights, gas, internet, etc. In Concón we were still without basic services until about 10am – and no internet or BlackBerry service at all, which meant no way to contact concerned family and friends.
In Santiago public transportation has been restored, at least in part. Gas stations are still mostly closed and cash machines are out of cash, while stores can only take cash (debit card machines are down). So some people are concerned about getting supplies, though Santiago is, for the most part, in pretty good shape.
But watching the news on TV we’ve been amazed to see the damage in some areas of Santiago. An entire section of a new elevated highway (autopista central – it can only be a few years old) collapsed with a number of cars on it – and fortunately no one was killed, although to see the images, you can’t imagine how.
Some buildings have collapsed. Curiously, it seems to be the newest and the very oldest buildings that suffered the most damage. Chile has always been prone to seismic activity, so there are strict building codes, but it looks like some of the newest buildings have not respected them.
I just saw images of a new building in Maipú (a quasi-suburb of Santiago) that had sections collapse – onto the parking lot, so the people lost their cars as well as their homes. They keep emphasising, however, how fortunate they feel to have come away with their lives and loved ones. (This kind of thing tends to put things into perspective, you know?)
The epicentre was in the south, between Talca and Concepción, and the images have been quite startling. There are many old homes made of adobe there and I hear that entire towns fell. I saw footage of a new building in downtown Concepción (one of Chile’s largest cities) that had completely collapsed – it was brand new, no more than five or six months old, and had been billed as an anti-seismic building … I can see some big law suits on the horizon there.
While this earthquake was very strong and incredibly severe, we are not looking at another Haiti. Reports are saying that because it was so widespread, it affected about 70% of the population (some 10 million people), though all things considered, most of those had relatively minor experiences.
Still, the recent images shown now of Talca and Concepción are unimaginable.
Margaret Snook, a North American anthropologist who came to Chile in 1991 for a six-week pre-research visit and ended up staying forever.