Saturday, February 27, 2010

Terremoto! Earthquake!

My cousin and her husband are on sabbatical from their teaching jobs in Australia, spending a year touring South America. Last night they were in Valparaiso, Chile. This is Debbie's account of the experience.

Valparaiso, Chile.

Would you believe it we have just been in an earthquake!!!! Volcanoes are one thing, But an earthquake was not on our list of ‘must do’ experiences for Chile!!!!

4.00am and we are sitting in the small plaza outside our hostel waiting for an aftershock. The whole neighbourhood is in the street, walking around and cars are roaring up and down the hills sightseeing in the the dark!(just like people do after a cyclone. The entire city has lost electricity and water. And apparently it was much worse in Santiago. (instant info- via mobiles).

Next morning.

That would have to have be THE most terrifying experiences of our lives!

Brian was woken up by the screeching of all the seagulls going bereserk down at the port, then the constant rhythmic tapping of the window glass. And then he leapt out of bed yelling, ‘It’s an

I thought he was crazy - but that quickly turned to panic when rubble from the ceiling fell down on out bed! All four walls cracked from floor to ceiling, with plaster and furniture going everywhere.

We are staying on the top floor (the 3rd) of a really dodgy old ricketty wooden building on the top of one of Valparaiso’s 42 hills. Not sure whether it would be a safer option than being in a solid (or not-so- solid in Chile’s case)concrete structure.

At least wood gives.

But that was the scarey thing! With zero experience, we had absolutely no idea what to do! Cyclone thoughts of hopping in the bathroom ran through my head. Why the hell did we skunge on accomodation and change from the dearer one? Would we have been any safer there? Feeling the whole ‘house of cards’ rock from side to side, throwing us into the walls and furniture.

As we were fleeing in our underpants making for the labrynth of 5 flights of dingey rattling stairs, we where invited by 2 Chileans to join them in a door way, where we braced ourselves for another few solid minutes. (For a moment it felt like we were back on the Antarctic Dream crossing the Drake Passage again!)

Brian thought of Stuart Diver. I thought, the girls wouldn’t even know where we were and what a violent slow death it would be. Trapped in the rubble! Apparently, 150 people are dead – 5 from Valparaiso.

It was horrifying! I don’t think I’ve felt so scared in all my life. In a strange country, in the pitch dark, with no trust in the building, no idea what to do and the mighty earth rumbling beneath
you, making you feel so totally insignificant and out of control. At it’s peak, the house rattled violently for a solid 3 minutes. Bone shaking, teeth rattling - shaking with fear.

Needless to say, we formed a close bond with the 2 Chileans in the doorway, bracing the architraves, all hugging each other in our jocks! And decided to go with their local advice and stay put and ride it out -while the Chileans, kept saying ‘tranquillo,…..tranquillo.’ (calm down!) rather than try the stairs.

When it died down a bit. Every household in our ramshackle hood, made it into the square to sit it out till dawn. With mother earth rumbling every 20 mins or so in after shocks. What a weird feeling that is. How small and helpless human beings are against mother earth. Adds new meaning to ‘the earth moved under our feet….)

Funny how sunlight makes you feel safer. We were so exhausted, from adrenolin, we went back upstairs, found a better, less damaged room and slept for 5 hours. The after shocks continued, the ominous tapping of the glass, and rumbling, and the sea gulls started up again - but we took the local’s word for it, that the worst was over.

Woke up to the news at lunch time. 8.8 on the Richter scale! That was the epi-centre in the town of Concepcion. It was about 7.5 here. So that’s huge!

The lovely poor family who own this hostel were wonderful to us. All the neighbours are helping clean up. A real sense of community. All our gear, was covered in debris and rubble, but no damage.

And we feel lucky to be alive, especially when we go through those horrible 5 mins in our mind. It is unreal.

At least we are safe from the potential secondary hazzard of a tsunami! Lucky we are not on Easter Island until next week, where they are on alert.

We love adventure travelling, but that is enough excitement for now.

I told Brian I don’t want to feel the earth move again for a while!

- Debbie Mann Power
Valparaiso, Chile

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