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June 29, 2010

People of Chile were sleeping at 3.34 AM on Saturday 27 February when the fierce earthquake woke up us. I felt the earth jumps, bucks. A noise like snoring came from the deep and underground. It mixed with the breakage of glass, and cracks in walls and timbers. The rattle was fused with the sound of the earthquake. Open cracks, falling cornices, shrunk in absolute solitude, not daring to get out of bed, with no other contact with the world than a battery powered radio, I found out what happened. An area of over a thousand miles long, the most populous of Chile, is riven by an earthquake measuring 8.8 Richter scale, fifty times stronger than that of Haiti, one which I will know later, it will change the axis of the earth and shorten the day (my mom was waiting for something bigger the next day, because in 1960 there was an earthquake of 8 the day before it comes the famous 9,5 Richter scale earthquake!)

No water, gas, cell phone, internet, no electricity. With the earthquake we ran out of modernity. As if cell phones were made of stick. As the phone does not work, nor the cell, I can not find the children. Despite the darkness, instinct urges me not to light candles or anything, because it can be the start of a fire. I was holding my belly as I could, my 9 months pregnancy suddenly came over me and I started having contractions right after the earthquake ... almost three minutes the longest of my whole life. I prayed so that our house would not fall apart and I do not break water. At last the morning came, and went to the hospital, painfully I was left in the morgue because there was not any other place to operate nor beds. I did not care to be next to dead bodies in that minute since I was ready to have my Alexia. Once in the room the second earthquake came, the doctors were able to calm myself while watching my daughter getting out of my belly and the room, rocking from side to side, terrified me even more when the lights went off, a couple of minutes later the emergency generators began to operate and they could continue with the surgery. I could hear the cries of my baby when I moved from one place to another like jelly and saw flashing light bulbs over my moments of horror and joy at the same time. Life next to death.

In trying to understand the scope of the earthquake, the radio and TV did not tremble in inventing euphemisms to account for the tragedy and become trendy buzzwords like "complex time" and "complicated situation" where buildings have fallen and people are trapped, injured and dead flattened by debris. The Navy has not issued a tsunami warning sign, but the ONEMI (National Emergency) talks about tidal waves and tsunamis. The sea attacks by sweeping beaches and coastal villages. The sea enters the rivers, living freshwater sources.

Juan Fernandez Island, where there was no earthquake, was devastated by the tsunami and swept by waves of 20 meters. The National Army gave no sign of tsunami. Later, Admiral Edmundo Gonzalez acknowledged that he had not clearly informed Michelle Bachelet, the President of the Republic. Martina Maturana, a girl aged 12, when she opens a window of her home on the island Juan Fernandez sees the wave coming and ran to ring the alarm bell in the central city park (risking her life and I wonder...where were our Navy authorities?), announcing the outbreak of the tsunami, distraught, she urges his parents to flee. Then, a councilman from the same island Juan Fernandez reports that the government has announced the tsunami...but it's too late. The coast has already been devastated by the huge waves and whole villages went away. The tsunami devastated the coastal area and its beautiful beaches submerged: Pichilemu Bucalemu, Iloca, Chanco, Constitution, Dichato, Tomé, Lirquén, Llico, Tirúa. The coastal city of Constitution just disappeared. Large numbers of dead people, it's said to be around 400 (some of them are babies taken away from their mothers' arms!). That night, the last day of the holiday, the community held a farewell party for the summer. Damage to docks and berths in ports take place and there are missing people with their homes and hotels.

The international airport is paralyzed by severe damage. The city of Santiago remains without buses or underground train. Fires occur, the firefighters, which in Chile are volunteers work hard to get the wounded out of the ruins. They themselves declare that they lack basic tools and ask the public: "whoever has a liter of gasoline available bring it to help us power the engines."
Most of the country is declared a disaster area, the most populous, from the 5th to the 9th region.
It is 80% percent of the territory. That is, from Valparaiso to Puerto Montt. Highways are destroyed in several sections, layers of asphalt on deep holes are balanced making vehicle traffic unable. 29 hospitals are totally damaged. Four emergency hospitals are installed in Talca, Curico, Concepción, Chillán a month later!.

It is shown that the regulations requiring earthquake resistant construction were not respected and a recently opened fourteen-story tower has plummeted, (some just did not have any chance to escape and died under piles of debris) an apartment building erected no more than five years ago, the same goes for some recent roadworks and bridges which collapsed. We can deduce that our colonial heritage has crumbled completely (adobe churches and buildings). Several bell towers and churches have collapsed. 500,000 homes tumbled and turned into rubble. 1,500,000 damaged, many will have to be completely demolished because they are irreparable.

The beginning of the school year scheduled for March 3 has been put off until April. Many schools collapsed entirely, others are severely damaged, above all, plenty of broken glass, computers, libraries, TV sets have been destroyed completely.

In towns, the neighbors try to help bringing water, desperate mothers go to markets and stores in search of milk, drinks and diapers for their children. Solidarity behavior contrasts with the looting of lumpen groups that dismantle supermarkets, pharmacies and abandoned houses. Some place great emphasis on the looting of the lumpen and the urgent need to defend private property, to compel the military to act, but nothing is said of people with resources to empty the shelves of supermarkets taking all possible for hoarding goods to the point of not leaving a bag of flour (for example, in the supermarket "Jumbo" on Macul with Greece street was emptied). Some merchants do not shudder to double or triple the price of one kilo of bread and other stuffs.

Hostels are enabled for those who have lost their homes. In the capital, assistance to Peruvian workers (they are about 2,000) to leave their damaged homes, which have hitherto lived crowded, the parish of the Italian community provides them with accommodation. A few days later thousands of immigrants will leave the country forever.

Families desperate for news of their relatives living in the most troubled, meanwhile others cry for their children and old people taken by the tsunami waves. People are quickly readying themselves to sleep outside, many are directed to the hills of the places. Those who can, take refuge in tents. Others sleep in their vehicles because they do not have a house anymore, it has been said they are 1,500,000 million approximately. At about 3 hours later there is still a serious failure of communication, nobody has an exact idea of the magnitude and extent of the earthquake. On next Sunday morning some pedestrians see René Cortázar, Minister of Transport and Communications, exercising and running in the park near their home to maintain their fitness,... authorities will continue being far away from the poor reality of many Chileans.

Most of our precious heritage has been devastated  and many more Chileans will never be found, as my mom would remember...exactly the same as when there was our sadly famous 9.6 50 years ago (she would tell me when I was a child that then entire families were "swallowed" by the earth, meanwhile they were escaping in the streets)

Now, it comes the hardest part: the reconstruction, I wish it will bring relief and hope to our beaten country, it looks like a prophesy our President´s words: No more shanty towns in 2010...

More entries: HOW IS TO LIVE AN 8.8 EARTHQUAKE LIKE?, 27-F Earthquake and Tsunami in Chile, Women and freedom (1)

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