March 1, 2010

Personal Accounts

We received these two reports from Columban priests working in Valparaíso and Santiago this morning. We are so thankful that we had no major injuries or damages in the Columban family.

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Earthquake in Chile

(report by Fr. Derry Healy, the director of the Columbans here in Chile)

We are all well and alive, just the shock of the whole experience. All the Columban group are safe and haven´t suffered major damages. Most of the contents of the houses were turned over with the shake. I was not long in bed and was woken up to what I thought was someone trying to break it as the woodwork creaked and the front door vibrated. Soon I felt the whole house shaking and I just and ran for it and up on to the street. Our house is wooden and on stilts on the edge of a ravine. I felt like it was never going to end. Many of us spent the rest of the night on the street with the people. Here in Valparaiso, we gathered the people around, clear of building and electricity wires and got a fire going and made a 40 litre pot of tea. Luckily we has a supply of cups in the Ecological Centre.

I managed to contact all the Columbans (lay missionaries, Associates, Sisters and priests) by yesterday afternoon. Mobile phones were the first to get back the signal. he Centre House in Santiago has suffered minor damages. Also some of our chinches presnet some cracks, but nothing major. Communications, water and electricity are being gradually restored. Since the last major earthquake on March 3rd 1985, strict anti-sismic building regulations have been put in place in Chile and this has prevented a major disaster. This earthquake was much stonger than any experienced in rcent years.

Yesterday, Saturday, was like a "Holy Saturday" just contemplating suffering and vulnerability and in a limbo situation. Today Sunday the gospel of the the tranfiguration gives us new hope and wonder and while the little Christian community would like o stay on Mount Tabor, they are now chllenged to become envolved in the wider community and keep hope alive amid so much disaster. Today there has been here movement and people are trying to get to normal. There are still some tremors as I write this. People around here are still on the street and won´t go back into their apartments yet.


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Report by Fr. Dan Harding, an Australian Columban working in Santiago

This earthquake at 8.8 at the epicentre on the Richter Scale was one of the most powerful in history, or rather since recording earthquakes began. It was the fifth most powerful earthquake ever recorded in history and lasted almost 3 minutes. Even though the city of Santiago is several hundred kilometres from the epicentre, the level of intensity for us here in Santiago was 8.5 on the Richter scale. Remember the Haiti earthquake was 7.0 on the Richter Scale. The largest earthquake ever recorded was in Chile in 1960 at 9.5 on the Richter scale. 
Speaking personally it was a terrible shock to be awoken from deep sleep at the beginning of the earthquake. I was awoken by my small dog barking and birds outside fluttering wildly. I thought to myself that a neighbours' cat must be at the birds. So I got up and turned the light on. Just then the earthquake started in great intensity and all the electricity cut out. I was lucky to get outside and hold on to a fence in the darkness as the earth, trees and buildings around me shook wildly. It was an extremely frightening experience. One is completely helpless, not knowing what is going to happen and trying to catch one's breath. Luckily none of us in the Columban Centre House were hurt and there was only minor damage to the buildings. After an earthquake everyone goes out onto the street for fear of after shocks. I spent the rest of night with hundreds of neighbours out on the footpath in pajamas in the cold morning air. 

Much of the central part of Chile with over 80% of the population has been badly affected by the earthquake and the following Tsunami along the coast. Over 2,000,000 people have had their homes damaged or badly affected. Since the earthquake at 03.34 am Saturday morning local time, we have received over 90 after shocks which will continue for months ahead. Some of the after shocks like one at 8.30 this morning (Sunday) were in themselves small earthquake at 6.5 on the Richter Scale. The death toll is at 708 and climbing with dozens of disappeared. 
The epicentre of the earthquake was only 90 kilometres from the city of Concepción, which is 500 kilometres from Santiago to the south along the coast. We Columbans do not work in Concepcion. There has been massive damage to Concepcion, its twin city Talcahuano and other cities between Santiago and Concepcion such as Chillan, Talca, Linares and Rancagua. In Concepcion, a 14 story apartment block fell over backwards and snapping into various parts. Rescue teams are still working on this building with over 40 people still unaccounted for. Continuous after shocks hinder the rescue work. 
Today Sunday, police and now the military are trying to hold back looters in Concepcion and Santiago from looting supermarkets, shops, banks etc. Few supermarkets are open here in Santiago today for fear of looters. The metro is not yet functioning. There is a sense of panic in the air with large lines at petrol stations and the few shops open. This afternoon when I had to travel through the older part of Santiago, I saw hundreds on buildings damaged, burst water mains and families with a few pieces of furniture living out on the footpaths.
The Terminal at the International Airport in Santiago was severly damaged and only now are a few flights arriving from overseas. People wanting to leave Chile have to travel over the Andes to the Argentinian city of Mendoza and from there fly to Buenos Aires. In the city of Chillan, south of Santiago, a wall in the local jail collapsed and over 200 prisoners escaped. 
The earthquake at 03.34 am Saturday morning, was followed 20 minutes later by a Tsunami along the Chilean coast up as north as Valparaiso, which is on the coast near Santiago. Giant Tsunami waves entered the coastal cities of Talcahuano, Constitucion and many coastal resort towns such as Ilorca, Duao and on the island of Juan Fernandez, washing out to sea hundred of house, buses, cars and people. As Chileans are used to earthquakes and Tsunamis, many people from the coast managed to escape to higher ground before the arrival of the Tsunami. At this stage, it is not know how many people were drowned by the Tsunami, but it is estimated that at least 150 people were drowned in the city of Constitution alone. In one coastal town, a Ferris Wheel was dragged upright from a small fair by the Tsunami wave a distance of 250 metres. 
It is Sunday night here as I write this email. Hundred of families are sleeping outdoor in Santiago alone because their homes have either been destroyed or seriously damaged and are dangerous to occupy. Most damage in Santiago is in the older colonial part of the city. In this area, there are families sleeping in all the parks, plazas and outside their damaged apartment buildings. Many beautiful old colonial style churches have been damaged or destroyed. All around Santiago and on the main highway to the south, overpasses have collapsed effectively destroying much of Chile's advanced highway system. Thousands of people in Santiago as well as in the south do not yet have electricity or water connected. 
We Columbans have asked the people in our parishes to pray and to help as much as possible the victims of the earthquake and the Tsunami. We will most likely be organizing special masses and collections and fund raising activities in all of our parishes. 
Chile is one of the most organized countries in South America and especially well prepared for earthquakes and tsunamis. All schools have earthquake practice and for those near the coast, tsunami practice. Chilean rescue teams played an important role recently in Haiti. In less than two weeks, we will have a change of government which will complicate somewhat the recovery efforts.
Please keep the Chilean people in your prayers and we Columbans serving here. We thank God that none of us were hurt in any way.



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