Tuesday, March 2, 2010

My Narrative of the 8.8 Earthquake in Chile


On Saturday morning, Feb 27 at around 3:35 am Chile experienced a massive earthquake. My husband Jim and I, along with our cat family, live in Pichilemu which is about 150 miles from the epicenter of the quake.
We both had insomnia that Friday night so we were wide awake when we felt the first rumbles and movement. Jim said, ‘Earthquake, get your clothes on!’ As I was struggling into my sweats he said, ‘Get on the floor!’ and I did. The shaking was so strong and violent we could not walk until it was over. And it seemed like an eternity before it stopped shaking and bouncing us around. It was the biggest, strongest, longest, most violent and scariest earthquake we've ever experienced! It felt to me to last about five minutes but I found out later it was only three minutes. They were the longest three minutes of my life. (Midway through the quaking, the lights went out. We didn’t know it would be until Tuesday afternoon before we had power again.) I slipped on my flip flops and he said, ‘No, your real shoes.’ Of course, but I was trying to hurry out of there. But, I knew he was right so I found my shoes and socks and got them on in record time. I was worried about a tsunami so I rushed to the front window where I saw rather flat waves and amazingly, a truck traveling down Comercio (the highway that skirts the beach). I thought to myself, ‘how in world could that truck still be on the road?’ I was about to go out the door when Jim said, ‘Get a jacket.’ Again, I was not thinking of anything but getting out but, I grabbed a sweatshirt jacket and he handed me a flashlight and got another for himself. Our cats were nowhere to be seen and we hoped there wouldn’t be a tsunami and they’d be safe.

When we got out the door and onto our deck our neighbors on both sides were also on their decks talking on cell phones. I assumed they’d follow us up the hill but didn’t see them again that night. We quickly walked the steep three blocks to Maria Luisa and Pancho’s house which is the highest on the hill behind us. We were greeted by neighbors on foot and in cars flocking into their driveway. Their three dogs were excited and upset by so many people they didn’t know, along with dogs they also didn’t know, converging in their yard. At one point the three picked a fight with a big German Shepherd and Jim growled, ‘HEY!’ and they stopped fighting. We knew behind their house is a large backyard that stretches even higher up the hill so we went there and sat to rest on a bench where we could see the ocean. Just as an aftershock shook us, I noticed a big wave forming. It was not a huge wave but bigger than the flat waves we saw before. We both decided it would be a good idea to go a little higher. At the gate leading up the hill, we met a young couple who had been in the truck I saw earlier on the highway. He later demonstrated the difficulty he had keeping control of their vehicle. We also met a woman holding a baby and her mom who were vacationing here. Their family including the woman’s husband, were in Concepcion which is where we believed the epicenter to be. When the woman tried to call her husband, she only got a beep, beep, beep meaning that the signal was down.
I looked at the young couple, pointed up the hill and said, ‘Arriba.’ They nodded once and started walking. I looked back once at the wave and saw it was just breaking and I wondered if it was significant. Later I found out that it was about the same time a tsunami hit Pichilemu, which is about 2 miles north of where we live in Playa Hermosa.

We had to crawl through a couple of barred wire fences and I learn that the baby was quite heavy when the woman handed him to me while Jim held the wire up for her to crawl under. The baby was so good, never woke up or cried the whole time, until at 6:30 when he was hungry. I was impressed that the women had the presence of mind to not only dress themselves warmly, have the baby bundled up warmly, each have a flashlight, plus have a bottle for the baby.

There was a group in front of us calling for their dog and stopped climbing the hill about midway. We continued to the top, stopping when we found a clearing where falling trees would not likely fall on us. We grouped off into three little groups sitting where we could keep an eye on the ocean. It was then that we found that Kimba (pronounce Keemba) one of Maria Luisa’s dogs had accompanied us. Kimba would come visit each of us and then patrol the area and then come check on us again. He would sometimes rest next to us or the others but never slept. Neither did we. He stayed with us until daylight when we all started to descend the hill.

Fortunately, it was a clear night with an almost full moon which illuminated the shore break. We all kept our eyes on the ocean, grateful of not seeing the water recede which would signal a tsunami. It wasn’t uncomfortably cold until the moon began to set. We also lost the light on the ocean but it was an awesome sight to see the moon sink below the off shore low clouds that were hovering over the horizon. I got stiff from sitting on the ground so long so I stood and stretch a little. Jim also got up and I stood in front of him with his arms around me keeping my back warm while I kept his front warm. It seemed like hours before the sun came up. Around 7:30 it was full light and the young couple started back. Jim and I slowly followed with the woman, baby, and grandmama following us.

On the way down, we could see several cars to the south of us that had driven as far up the hill as they could and turned to face the ocean. The occupants were beginning to stir and drive back down.

When we reached Maria Luisa and Pancho’s front yard we found several girls on the ground slumber party style and other neighbors huddled in blankets sitting in chairs around the girls while others were emerging from their cars.

I was anxious to see our house and our cats but Jim wanted me to stay there while he went down alone, just in case there was another quake or a tsunami. I hated to wait behind but I did. Jorge and Miriam, neighbors and friends of ours, came to check on everyone while I was standing there waiting for Jim. Miriam looked very upset, asked how I was, how the house was and where was Jim? She looked relieved when I told her he was checking the house and our cats.

Finally, he came back with a bag of supplies in case we stayed there. But after a cup of coffee for him and tea for me, we talked to the others about going back down, and we decided it was safe to do so. On the way, Jim told me that the room that took the hardest hit was my studio. Then I remember hearing things falling in there, but I keep the door closed at night so the cats can’t play with my things, and I didn’t look in before we left. He also told me that he saw all the cats except Zsa Zsa, our white cat who is the most sensitive of all of them. (I later found her hiding under the covers in our bed.)

In the kitchen, nothing was broken and only a couple of things had fallen out of the cabinet: a little bottle of maple syrup recently sent to us from my cousin Connie and a plastic first aid kit. Amazing! But, my studio was a mess! When I started to clean up, again I was amazed. Only two things were broken: the glass in a picture frame and a vase Jim gave me over 20 years ago. I was sad about the vase until I realized in the big scheme of things it was insignificant. One thing that really puzzled me was a framed that shook apart on the floor but the glass didn’t break. Another puzzle was the little glass drop that had broken in transit from a glass sculpture Connie had sent. Just days before, I put it in a tiny vase on my shelf but I found the glass drop on my desk while the vase was still in its original position. The glass drop had to have hopped out of the vase and the vase didn’t move. Several books had worked their way out to the edge of their shelves but only one hit the floor: a collection of short stories by Edgar Allen Poe. How’s that for spooky?

We still hadn’t found our Zsa Zsa but when I was making the bed, I found her hiding under the covers. She’d come up for a few minutes but spent most of the day hiding under the covers.

We were having such frequent and violent aftershocks that we thought we’d better prepare for leaving again and camping outside if need be. We packed up a lot of gear like sleeping bags, a tent, food, clothing, and toiletries. Then we sat outside and watched our neighbors pack up and leave. What great neighbors! The neighbor to the north gave us all the food she had in her fridge, which was very thoughtful since it would take some time before the stores would be open again. She told us she is a medical person and a wing of the hospital in Rancagua had collapsed and she had to go home. The neighbors to the south offered us their gas bottle but we refused since we had enough to last several days. They told us that a big wave hit Pichilemu and destroyed the park that is a block from the beach.

Jim inspected the house and found no damage at all! It shook us so hard it was hard to believe something hadn’t shaken apart but nothing did. Chileans know how to build houses to withstand earthquakes!

The aftershocks seemed to ease off a bit so we went back inside and spent the night. I woke up with severe vertigo and nausea. Jim felt it too but not as badly as I did. At first I thought it was the stress but Jim said he thought it was a kind of motion sickness. He calls it ‘Shaken Adult Syndrome.’ And it seems correct since my neck has little flexibility (having 4 vertebrae fused together and a titanium plate implanted). Even now on Tuesday, I am still experiencing vertigo. But, it is lessening each day.

I tried several times on Saturday to connect to the internet but the wi fi signal was too weak. But, finally it connected and I quickly sent a short message to my mom and few other people. I tried repeatedly everyday to connect again but never could until today. We were trying conserve the battery of the laptop much as you would conserve flares on a lifeboat. Today when I tried and got connected I was so happy only to be dismayed when I saw the low battery warning. Again, I could send only a short note.

On Sunday afternoon our friend Maurice, owner of the Hotel Bahia (
http://www.hostalbahia.cl) came to check on us on his way to visit his mom who lives in a distant city. His hotel had no damage except a large crack on one wall. He said that night he was standing outside his hotel which is a block up a steep hill from the park when his friend said, ‘Look, there’s no water!’ Then a big wave came in followed by a really big wave (about 15 feet), then a third backsplash type wave. He said it was terrible and there was a lot of damage along the beach. We decided to go see for ourselves the next day.

Monday morning we went to Pichilemu and were dismayed by the damage we saw. Our favorite restaurant Pepe Cuervo’s was destroyed. When we first arrived in Pichilemu in May, 2007 we stayed in a cabana for about three weeks while we waited for the purchase of our house to go through.(We luckily found our house the second day we were here.) I wanted to see how it fared. Not well, I’m afraid. There is a steel shipping container smashed into the front window from where we once could lie in bed and watch the surfers.

We stopped by the Senior Center on our way to the park and saw our friends Lia, Lia’s mom who is in the 90’s, Mario, and Guillermo. Everyone gave us big hugs and kisses, happy to see us alive and well. We were happy to see them too and learn that all were okay. But, we were saddened to learn about so many people being killed and injured in other places. Lia told us about an island where all 400 vacationers were swept away and never seen again.

While we were gone, our friend Mariana (
http://www.lodemariana.com) came by and left a note. She came by again today and said her cabanas are all still standing with no damage except for one broken window and kitchen things broken on the floors.

There were no lives lost in Pichilemu. The earthquake gave everyone sufficient warning to get to higher ground. The only damage we saw from the earthquake was a couple of fence walls that had fallen over. And, the only damage from the tsunami was along the beach in the cove. We were so grateful no one was killed here and all our friends are safe with no damage to their homes.

I took several pictures and will publish them in a separate post. This narrative has been long enough with just the text.

Please feel free to leave your comments or email me directly.


Jeff said...

Thank you so much for your post. I have friends in Pichilemu who live pretty high up on the hill but I hadn't heard anything from them or about them, and did not know how Pichilemu had fared. - Jeff

JudyAdamsonArtandDesign said...

What a terrifying experience,Geree - difficult to imagine for those of us who don't live in an earthquake-prone area! But so glad you are OK and not too much damage. (I hope it was OK to post your email on my blog for others who were concerned about you to read.)

Geree said...

Jeff- Power was just restored yesterday afternoon and if your friends use public computers, they were not able to communicate. But, I expect the internet cafes to be up and running today so you could be hearing from them soon. I hope so. Please let me know. But, be reassured that no one died here and as far as I know, no one was injured either. Bless you and your friends,

Geree said...

Judy- On the contrary,I thought it was very thoughtful of you to post my email on your blog and I really appreciate it!
You are right, it was a terrifying experience and one I hope never to repeat.

(hey)Jude said...

Well yea!! Glad you and the kitties are all ok! Thanks for the in person report.....it's been awhile since many of us have lived in Calif. but I remember how awful a quake feels. So glad you both are ok!

Geree said...

HI Jude!
I know what you mean! But the entire time we lived in CA we were never all that close to the epicenter or even had anything fall off a shelf. This was so horrific it is hard to describe. I hope my narrative expressed some of what I felt and am still going through.
Thanks for your concern!!

JM said...

Thanks for the email and the blog narrative! Just one day before the quake hit, I was telling my son how worried I was about hurricanes off Chile...little did I know that I needed to worry about earthquakes too! And it only figures with a large earthquake the chance of a tsunami is great as well!
I have been so concerned for you and hubby and cats but you already know that. My blog (mantra) tells how I got through the past few days and I want you to know I was sending all my thoughts, Reiki, and prayers your way.
Although you have had quite an ordeal, you got through it and I thank God for that!
So, once again...thank you for letting us know as quickly as you could that you are ok.
Big hugs,
Joan :)

EL said...

Thanks for posting. Glad everyone is safe. From going through this, any advise on how to be prepared?

Geree said...

Thanks Joan! I appreciate all the good thoughts you sent our way.

I just came from town and no ATMs or credit card systems are up yet. Bummer!

Hugs to you too!

Geree said...

My husband and I are putting together an emergency bag to be kept by the door just in case there's a next time. In it we'll have flashlights with extra batteries, clothing, food, water, first aid kit and copies of our passports and Chilean IDs.
Thanks for your comment and good wishes!

What The Bleep said...

Unbelievable that Pichi was spared in the midsts of so much destruction from Concepcion to Santiago! This story is good to read,not only for the play by play, but for the fact that our friends survived to share it! Thanks for that, Geree. Hats off to Jims quick thinking on that hot seat as well!

Geree said...

Thanks, you little Bleeper!
Yes, it is a miracle that Pichilemu survived without any deaths and very little structual damage. Pictures will be posted later today so please check back again later,

Anonymous said...

Chinese news reports that the tsunami destrayed nearly all buildings in Pichilemu. that seems to conflict with your report. Any comment ? I have a friend here who has a Cabana in Pichilemu which he was told survived the tsunami.

Brine Time said...

Our thoughts are with you all. Many thanks for sharing your experience.

Geree said...

The Chinese reports are wrong but could be confused with some place else. The only buildings destroyed by the tsunami in Pichilemu were those across the street from the beach. If your friend's cabana is away from the beach, it is safe. Thanks for sharing what is being said elsewhere in the world.

Geree said...

Brine Time-
Thanks so much for your well wishes! It really means a lot to me and those of us who lived through such a horrific experience.