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,