Sunday, February 28, 2010


After yesterday's post, my family and I stayed in the apartment. I was running on three hours of sleep so I napped in between catching up with family and friends through Facebook, Skype, and Gmail. This is actually what the US Embassy emailed me to do, as social networking sites were the best way to communicate with telephone lines either down or busy, plus it was comforting to get in touch with people, especially my parents and my brother. The US Embassy email also said that some Americans were hurt in the quake, which was difficult to read about. I couldn't help but cringe as I saw so many stranded tourists with only their backpacks on the television news, thinking, I wanted to go on backpacking adventures here! That could have been me without a place to go or a way to leave the country.

Last night, my family and I packed bags of stuff we would need just in case we had to leave in a hurry. SO glad I have my Northface backpack with me and some limited camping gear. It kind of reminded me of last summer, having to pack what I thought I'd need to survive for a night or two without shelter. Luckily though, our neighbors do have two vehicles that we orignally were going to go sleep in last night, but we ended up sleeping in the living room instead, which is the closest room to the door. Nothing like sleeping with your clothes and sneakers on just in case you had to run!

Woke up this morning to another long aftershock. We ran out the apartment, but then it ended immediately, so we came back and looked to the television for information, only the 24 hour news has turned essentially turned into a disturbing video montage of destruction and devastation, complete with intense music and sound bytes of Bachelet's speech last night. I actually got to see Obama address the issue as well, but he was understandably a little more concerned about the ensuing tsunami for Hawaii and the West Coast, although I do believe he offerred support to Bachelet and the Chilean people.

As for today, we're going to venture outside of the apartment for the first time since the quake to see if we can find a grocery store that is open. Last night we were brainstorming good food to buy that would last a long time, because we don't really know how many opportunities we'll have to get food in the coming week. As for water, I have a sterilization kit my brother lent me, which I will be using on all the tap water I drink for the next few days.

As for my apartment, one of friends is a civil engineering student and he did some research for me. According to the US State Department, Chile has developed strong building codes given their history of earthquakes, so a 20 story building like mine should be designed for an earthquake like the one that happened. Just from looking out my window, I can tell that the buildings in my neighborhood are newer and sufferred little damage compared to the shocking images displayed in the media. Within the city, most of the destruction took place in the older areas of town and the airport. Santiago has sufferred 30 deaths. Estimates predict over 300 deaths throughout the country, although only 215 are confirmed by today's issue of El Mercurio. This I know for certain - most of the destruction occurred south of here, closer to the epicenter.

Thank you for reading, maybe consider becoming a follower. I appreciate your concern - I will keep the updates coming.


Saturday, February 27, 2010

Terremoto en Chile.

In the early hours of February 27, there was an earthquake in Chile. I am completely fine and safe. The following is my account of what happened:

I woke up this morning to the sound of screaming car alarms. The ground was shaking so much that my feet were hitting the baseboard of my bed and my light fixture was rattling. I was definitely confused when I woke up until my host Mom shouted my name and pushed my door open. By this time I had finally realized it was an earthquake and I shot out of bed. My host mom grabbed my arm and my three sisters and my parents ran to the front door of our apartment, banging against the walls on the way. By this time, the ground was really shaking – we held onto each other to stay standing up while my host Mom tried to open our door. It finally opened and we stood holding each other in a circle, ducking our heads, as we heard plates falling and glass shattering.

One of five apartments on the fifth floor of this twenty story apartment building, we were the only ones standing in the doorway of our apartment – the safest place to stand during a quake. My sisters were shouting to the other families to open their doors! Open your doors! But they couldn’t or weren’t there. This is when I started to get really scared. It suddenly dawned on me that I wasn’t in just a normal house – we had fifteen floors of shaking building above us and I was terrified. Images of collapsed buildings in Haiti panned through my head. I couldn’t stop thinking, was this building built to withstand seismic movement?!

After a really strong bout of shaking and twisting we ran for the stairs and sprinted down. It felt like running for your life. We got to the lobby, where the ceiling had completely fallen everywhere. In bare feet, we hopped over glass and plaster outside to the parking lot, where a flustered guard unlocked the gate to the parking lot so we could get away from the building. We were the first out of the building – impressive for being on the fifth floor, but with this realization came the weight of knowing that others were still trapped in their apartments. We were lucky to have gotten our door open – our neighbors down the hall joined us outside about ten minutes later after breaking down their door because it was stuck closed.

People started pouring into the streets. Everyone was in their pajamas, mostly shoeless, but having grabbed a blanket or sweater. One woman pushed her two toddlers away from the building in a shopping cart while her husband went back up to help others get out. One woman gave me socks when she saw I had no shoes. My sisters and I huddled under a tree as my cars poured out the parking lot. Everyone was in shock. I was happy to be out of the building, but also speechless. In my head I was just thinking, I hope everyone is safe. Please don’t collapse, building. I hope everyone is safe. I was so scared. More scared than I have ever been. I could understand what everyone was saying, but I couldn’t converse, I was practically speechless.

After about an hour, my host parents went up to the apartment quickly to grab clothing, shoes, water, and food, and to lock the door since we had left it open during the quake. We then went and sat in a car, where our 8-year old neighbor entertained us with banter about his keychain collection. The sun began to rise soon and it warmed up. At 7:30, after hours of waiting and worrying, we went back upstairs to assess the damage, when a small aftershock hit and we had to run out again. Most people had left the building already, but it was disheartening to have to leave again.

Upon returning to our apartment, we assessed the damage. Luckily the door still opened and closed. Some pictures had fallen off the wall, any items on shelves were thrown off, and small pieces of ceiling littered the floor. The wallpaper was ripped in all the corners and there were long cracks appeared in the ceilings. The tiles in the bathroom were cracked. I felt bad for my host family – they have a beautifully furnished apartment and now it was damaged. But they were calm and collected, and just happy that we were all together and safe.

We started cleaning up and watched the 24 hour news channel. The quake registered at 8.8 on the Richter scale. The death toll kept rising: 36, then 49, then 79, then over 100. The center of the earthquake was 197 miles south of Santiago, and yet it had collapsed a building in the center of Santiago, and completely closed up the airport. Other areas south of here suffered large amount of damage, including a collapsed bridge and parking garages, as well as a large chemical fire at a univeristy. Perhaps most shocking to see on the television though was the destruction in Providencia, the neighborhood where I had stayed in a hotel just one week ago.

My next mission was to get in contact with my classmates here and my parents somehow. My cell phone didn’t work though as the lines were obviously jammed, but I was able to text the other students on my program and they texted right back. I couldn’t get in touch with my parents though. Our internet was working, but nobody could connect to it. We then started receiving calls from all of my host family’s relatives in Peru that had just heard the news. My host family kindly allowed me to use their house phone to call my Mom, who due to the two hour time difference luckily had not heard about it yet, and she said she would call my brother and my Dad, who is in Brazil right now. I have since been able to access the internet and be in contact with him, my brother, and my relatives and friends.

For now, I am staying with my family in our apartment. We are keeping away from other buildings and staying off the streets. For safety, we are boiling all of the water, and we have bags packed just in case another quake or strong aftershock hits. Right now, I think I am in shock. When I left for Santiago, I was so worried that something would happen to my family or my friends while I was away. I never thought that something would happen to me. The only harm done to me is that I have is that the dust and particles are making me cough and sneeze a lot.

I have had access to the internet and phone now for a few hours. I will have more details to follow, thank you for your concern. I am completely safe. I have food and water and clothing and the companionship of an especially caring host family.

Much love to everyone and my thoughts and prayers for those Chileans not as fortunate as me,

Monday, February 15, 2010

Counting down to Chile...

This past summer I worked with Modoc National Forest through the Student Conservation Association. As a Wilderness and Trail Crew intern, I lived and worked in a team of five for twelve weeks. I soon learned that my time with this group of students did not terminate after the end of our eight-hour workday. Operating out of a remote guard station, a good forty-five minute drive across sketchy gravel roads from the nearest town (which was Cedarville, CA - population 800), we essentially functioned like a family: eating together, camping, together, working together. I had never spent this much time in close proximity to people I did not know before. And yet here I was, in the presence of a vegetarian, a Jew, a New Englander, and a Mexican, twenty four hours a day, seven days a week, whether I liked it or not.

At first we practiced the formalities, asking polite questions of one another and not stepping on anyone’s toes. But after a few weeks our facades broke down and we exposed our true personalities. Over campfires we discussed politics, on hikes, philosophy. As we cleared the trails we talked of banned books, musicians, and art. At night, we read at least twenty books by torchlight, and by day, discussed the Native American history as we sliced through logs with crosscut saws. There were debates too – lighthearted conflicts over what to cook for dinner but also intense ones that almost turned into fights.

Grueling work on the trail morphed my body into a machine capable of tackling anything. Minimalist backpacking lifestyle reinforced my decision-making ability and resilience, even in the face of every type of precipitation possible in a twenty-four hour period. Tough questions over campfires ignited the fire that has become my own voice. By the end of summer, beyond the experience of completing fulfilling work, I felt independent, self-reliant, and ready to take on the world - what I encountered in Modoc National Forest inspired me to explore even more.

As I look ahead to my semester abroad in Santiago, I know my experiences in California will no doubt influence my time there. Like my approach to interning with the Forest Service, I am open to new experiences and will retain a sense of adventure. I also hope to accomplish a few goals I have. I aim to master my grasp of the Spanish language so I can immerse myself in the culture of the region. In my coursework, I’m eager to learn more about the economic development in Chile, and its associated environmental and social implications. Lastly, I hope that I can capture some of the beauty of my experiences with photography, video, sound clips, and journaling, the highlights of which I will post on a weekly basis.

I first found out I was accepted to SIT’s Economic Development program in Chile while I was working for the Forest Service in California. Extremely excited, I spent hours on our hikes daydreaming about the adventures I’d be having. From one beautiful place to another, I feel like one lucky girl.

I fly to Santiago on Saturday. Until then, ¡hasta luego!