March 8, 2010

Experiences After the Earthquake (English Version)

The following note was written by Alvaro Martinez, Vice-Director of the Region of Chile

Experiences after visiting places affected by the earthquake and tsunami

On Thursday, March 4th, I started my journey with three others - Eduardo, the camera man; Francisca, a journalist for t.v. station UCVTV and Fernando, my brother-in-law who also took photos. Our destination was Pencahue, located in the seventh region of Chile. Inicially, our motive was to bring help to those stuck in the town and to visit my sister who has suffered the complete loss of her house. But, God along with technological possibilities had some additional desires. This was the way that the idea arose to document the damage caused by the earthquake. Even though the original destination was the small town Pencahue, the massive destruction we found caused us to visit more places, such as Pencahue, botalcura, corinto, Curepto, iloca, hualañe and sagrada familia.

The massive destruction of homes, jobs, hopes and dreams mixed together with hopes and dreams of lifting up out of this tragedy. Communities such as Pencahue have lost around one thousand houses, only a parcial count that has been turned in by the local authorities. More than 60% of Curepto was destroyed. The massive damage and destruction in Corinto and botalcura were mainly due to the earthquake, while in iloca, it was not hit only by the quake, but also struck by the tsunami.

There were so many accounts to be told and heard. People slept outside of their houses due to fear, or simply because they had no where to live. We saw babies sleeping in the street and elderly people crying while looking to their faith, trying to find the reasons why an earthquake of such magnitude would occur here. Some of the stories were so emotionally moving that even though the victims held back their tears, it made the heart cry. One such story was when a woman came up to us and said, "I don't want help. Thanks be to God, I am alive and I have what I need to survive. What I really need is for someone to listen to me." How can one not break down, when faced with women fighting over a ration of food, or men and women broken from the weight of the walls that fell upon them. Hearing the screams of children saying, "Hear we are! And we need help too."

I could write a thousand more stories, describing the thousand more faces, or the reuniting of a father and son in Iloca. We picked up this father on the highway and acompanyed him during tense moments looking, asking, demanding to know where his son was, where he was staying, who was caring for him. We finally found the house and they were able to reunite. We witnessed the encounter and the embraces of those that perhaps, we will never meet again. Even so, we will never forget those moments of looking and encounter.

Finally. The earthquake has passed and the sea has returned to its normal rhythm, but today we are able to visualize the first human replicas of the disaster. The post earthquake traumas are now appearing. They are surfacing in the fear of noises, the physical effects of exhaustion, the peoples' inability to tell and retell their experiences. This displays itself through physical signs. The material need is urgent, but we shouldn't forget about these other dimensions of human life. It is necessary to speak and hear the words unspoken and the stories not told. The reconstruction of this country will not only deal with houses, but also with morality. We cannot negate the looting or pretend that it didn't happen. The spiritual and psychological world has also been harmed and need to be repaired.

The truth is that words cannot express what we have felt and lived through. At the end of the more than 1,000 kilometers traveled, Fernando referred to what we have experienced as being stronger than what was shown on television. It was definitely more raw, but I think that the reason is that the television can't transmit the smells or the dreams and stories shared over a cup of tea or a sopaipilla. I think that we went through this experience so that we could touch the wounds of Christ and feel as if we were with Him, the pain of feeling abandoned by His Father, who exclaims, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?." Without a doubt, we were touched by those moments that we were able to share with the Christs of today, but we were also able to share the hopeful words of Jesus, "Father, into your hands, I commend my spirit." As an elderly woman said, "God has given me this experience and I was able to live it with Him."

Alvaro Martinez.

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