Sunday, February 28, 2010


There have been many thoughts running through my mind in the last 36 hours as I processed and dealt with a new experience—an earthquake. Since many people in my acquaintance haven’t experienced this either, I’m going to try to describe my life for the past 36 hours, as well as share what the foreseeable future looks like. I’ll probably add in some statistical information too. Earthquake news has become my new hobby.

It all started in the middle of the night after a very, very long week of work. It was the first week of classes, and as a full time teacher and part of the temporary administrative team, it was an incredibly busy one. The first couple days were teacher inservice and setup, and classes started on Wednesday. Each day I probably averaged a cool 10 hours of work, easy. Since I knew life would calm down after a couple of weeks, once the beginning craziness calmed down and I figured out how to juggle what is essentially two fulltime jobs, I didn’t mind working like a crazy person for a while. Needless to say, by the time Friday rolled around, I was exhausted and very much looking forward to a relaxing weekend. I took it easy Friday evening, but was so tired that I turned off the movie I was watching and went to bed around 10:30pm (two things I never do, as those who know me well can attest to).

After 5 blissful hours, I slowly awoke as my subconscious told me that the shaking in my dream was actually happening in real life. Having lived in Chile for 2 and a half years, I have experienced a handful of tremors, so I laid there waiting for it to pass. However, it didn’t pass. In fact, it grew stronger and stronger and without even thinking about what I was doing, I ran (or rather stumbled and staggered like a drunken person due to the intense shaking) to the doorframe of my bedroom and held on for dear life. Having accomplished this, I was able to be aware of my thoughts again, and I simultaneously considered a multitude of possibilities, fears, and observations. In no particular order, here’s what ran through my mind: it’s very dark and I’m alone…an older lady lives alone in another apartment here at the school, is she ok? apartment is on the end with no offices underneath, just a breezeway, what if I fall through?...ok, now things are falling over and glass is crashing…Dear God, please let it stop soon! gosh, my heart is racing…oh, maybe I should go stay in the bathroom, no that’s for tornadoes, there are tiles in there that might fall on me…man, this is lasting a long time and getting worse!...i’m barefoot with broken glass nearby…God, please please let it stop…that bookshelf is blocking my way to the exit…what on earth is that annoying sound?...

I think that about covers it. As soon as the shaking stopped, I started running around my bedroom getting things I needed, foolishly trying to turn on lights as I went. Obviously they were not working. I ran to get my slippers so I wouldn’t hurt my feet on the unseen glass; I grabbed my sweatshirt because I knew I’d be going outside; I found the candle in my bathroom and hunted futilely on the floor for the matches. Somewhere during all this the school’s guard ran up and pounded on our doors, making sure we were ok and calling for us to come out. At this, I abandoned my attempts to find light, hefted the bookshelf upright so it would be out of my way (it had fallen and was propped against my kitchen counter, angling across my path to the front door), leapt across all the items scattered on the floor from the bookshelf, and went downstairs with my neighbor.

For an hour and a half we stood outside with our guard, the guard from across the street who we know, and the neighboring pastor and his wife. We swapped stories. Nobody was hurt. The pastor’s dishes all fell and shattered. Some people were able to get a hold of family before the phone lines went down, some weren’t. The guard was in the parking lot when it happened, and he could barely even stay standing. When he imitated his experience, it looked very much like a person surfing on dry land with no surfboard! As we talked, we felt an aftershock and many tremors, but these didn’t really phase us at that point. We had a radio and were listening to updates as we watched helicopters fly overhead and heard sirens from all directions. They were saying it was an 8.5 on the Richter scale (it actually ended up being an 8.8). The pastor’s wife said it felt worse than the big one they had in 1985 (which was a 7.8) and everyone commented on how unusually long it lasted—nearly three minutes as we found out the next day.

Finally around 5am we decided it was safe to go to the apartments and assess damage. We found our candles, figured out what that annoying sound was (a smoke detector that had fallen in the unoccupied apartment next to mine), and took a look around. Things were in disarray in my apartment, but the only broken items were a mug and a blender that was already broken. Just then the electricity came on, which I was very surprised about (36 hours later there are still many parts of the city without it). I grabbed my blanket, pillow, and cell phone (although it wasn’t really working) and headed to my car with my neighbor to try to get some sleep. I was cold and could feel every tiny vibration as I sat still in the car. It was both soothing and freaky. Needless to say, I didn’t sleep very well. Around 7am I went back upstairs, hoping to sleep for real. It seemed safe enough, although I wasn’t sure I’d be able to calm down enough to sleep, exhausted as I was. I wasn’t afraid, just very much on edge. At 7:25 am, about 15 minutes after I had lain down, we had our first big aftershock (6.9 at its epicenter). I laid there, wide awake, waiting to see if it would get worse. Since it didn’t, I tried to sleep and dozed fitfully for just a couple of hours. Then I woke up to answer the many phone calls and talk to the many people who stopped by to see the damage or use the facilities. We were blessed in that by noon we had electricity, phone service, water, and internet, so we were able to notify friends and family in the States that we were safe.

All afternoon on Saturday I went around the school grounds, surveying damage and taking pictures of the school, righting all of the apartments, and beginning the cleaning of the school. All throughout the day there were tremors, and about five or six times there were decent sized aftershocks. In fact, once I was on the phone with a missionary who lives just a little to the south of the city, and she mentioned the fact that she felt a big tremor. About two seconds later I felt it too. I thought that was quite interesting, as it must have rippled from its epicenter in southern Chile. They move quickly!

Around 7pm last night I collapsed after much cleaning, phone calls, and emailing. Chile is in a state of emergency until at least Wednesday, so classes can’t start until then at the very earliest. So we decided to take Sunday off and have work days on Monday and Tuesday to try to get the school put back together. Luckily there was no structural damage but many floors are covered with books and other odds and ends as bookshelves fell, and the library is almost completely on the floor! I made dinner, watched a movie (all the while feeling rumblings of tremors…almost constantly it seemed), and went to bed utterly exhausted after a very long day.

My goal was to sleep in this morning since church services were canceled. Well, that didn’t exactly happen as I was awoken once again by a large aftershock (6.1 at its epicenter…although felt like a 5 in Santiago) around 8:30am. It was long, but since it didn’t worsen, I decided to go back to sleep…not an easy feat since there were constant tremors for the next half hour. The tremors are much more noticeable as I sit still on a couch or lay in my bed. Any tremors during the night (I’m positive they happened) weren’t big enough to wake me up. I did sleep more and woke up around 10:30 and figured it was time to get up. That brings us up to current time since I haven’t really done much today. Tomorrow and Tuesday will be full of work, so I’m sure I’ll have more pictures of the clean-up process to share (to see pictures of the school and my apartment, go to my facebook page).

I’ll give you some stats, and then I’m going to try to describe what all this earth movement feels like.

The earthquake, on Saturday at 3:34am Chile time (1:34 am Eastern Standard time), ranks at an 8.8 which ties for the fifth worst earthquake in recorded history. The worst one happened in Chile in 1960 and was a 9.5. (Every whole integer on the Richter scale is 32 times more powerful than the previous one.)

The epicenter was a little under 300 miles south of Santiago. Here in the city it felt like a 8.3 on the Richter scale (much stronger than the earthquake in Haiti a few months back which was a 7.0).

The larger aftershocks (those in the 6.something range) have felt like 5.0’s here in Santiago. In the past, those would have felt quite big, but in the perspective of the main one, they’re no big deal!

There have been countless aftershocks, floodings from tsunamis, losses of lives, homes, and entire villages (mainly down south), and tsunami warnings for Hawaii, Japan, and Russia.

Much of the city is still without electricity or water, and HUGE lines are forming at grocery stores and gas stations, all of which were closed yesterday and have limited supplies today.

Here in the city, the main highway is closed as many of the overpasses have collapsed, twisted, or overturned. The airport is also completely closed for awhile as the outdoor elevator structures and walkways collapsed (and who knows what happened inside). The metro was closed yesterday as they checked for damage. I have not heard what they found there.

I went out once yesterday to the little corner store to get something to drink, and the people there were all a bit solemn, but everyone is much more friendly and talkative with strangers than they usually are. It’s like the entire city has been bonded by this experience.

I’ve been told that the big aftershocks will last a few days, but the tremors will last a few weeks.

Thank God that it happened in the middle of the night (although the dark added to the scariness), because the metro was closed, public transportation at a minimum, and children weren’t in schools but at home with their families. Since it was a Friday night, I’m sure many places downtown were still full of people, and I haven’t heard how those places fared.

In my mind, there are three levels of earth movement that we’ve experienced, and I’m going to try my best to describe them. They are the main earthquake, the aftershocks, and the tremors.

The main earthquake—Imagine that you’re cooking something in a frying pan—an omelet, a pancake, stirfry—and you pick up the frying pan and start shaking it quickly back and forth to move the stuff around. Now, imagine that your house is on a huge frying pan and someone picks it up and starts shaking it back and forth. It’s very difficult to walk or stand properly, and furniture starts tipping over and decorations fall off the walls. Now imagine that the base of the house is attached to the frying pan and someone starts shaking it. Just imagine what that would do to the structure of it—the frame, the windows, the ceiling and roof. It all depends on how tall it is, how well it’s built, if it’s going to survive or not.

Imagine that in the dark for almost 3 minutes, and you’ll be pretty close to that first big earthquake.

The aftershocks—Think of those TV shows or movies you may have seen where a small apartment or dingy motel is situated near a subway or train track. (Some of you may have actually had that unfortunate experience!) Think of how the whole place shakes slightly, the things on the walls rattle, the vibrations bounce you around ever so slightly…but nothing falls or is broken, and you could easily walk across the room.

Imagine that about for about 45 seconds 5 or 6 times a day, but add to it the consideration that it you don’t know if it’s going to turn into the frying pan situation, and you’ll be pretty close to how these aftershocks feel. They don’t do any damage, but they do make us all pause in what we’re doing in order to assess if we have to run to safety or not.

The tremors—Imagine you’re in a larger vehicle like a large van or a truck and you’re traveling on the highway. There’s a constant vibrating, and every once in awhile you feel a slight rocking in your core.

Imagine that for anywhere from a couple minutes to half an hour, on and off all day long, and you’ll be pretty close to understanding the tremors. They’re not easily felt when walking around doing things, but are quite obvious while sitting or laying down.

Well, that’s a very long update on my life this weekend. It’s very surreal and has completely changed the outlook of the week for me, but all in all, we were very lucky. Those in the south have received the brunt of it, and we need to continue to pray for those without homes, those who have lost family members, those who are trapped in buildings, those who haven’t been heard from or are missing, and those in charge of dealing with it all. What an opportunity for God to be glorified and His love to be shared with many hurting people here and many watching people around the world.

1 comment:

Joyce said...

Wow-what an experience. Thanks for sharing it with us. PTL that you & many others are safe. Will continue to pray for the people of Chile & you!!