Michigan Tech News

Dispatches from Chile: Faculty Members’ Children Relate their Earthquake Experiences

Last Modified 7:59 AM on Thu Mar 4, 2010

906-487-3510, 

By Dennis Walikainen

March 3, 2010—

Sam Wallace, a 5th grader at Houghton Elementary, and his sister, Cecilia, a 7th grade student at the middle school, lived through the Chilean earthquake with their parents, Chuck Wallace and Susanna Peters, both members of the Tech faculty. Sam and Cecilia describe their experiences follow:

Sam writes, in a letter to his class: “ . . . around 3:30 in the morning there was a HUGE earthquake. It was SO scary even though I didn't even get the least of it. We are on the 15th floor in an apartment house, but the building was super sturdy, so after the tremendous shaking which was so huge I'll never go on a fair ride again . . . most of the family is up and my mother is yelling ‘WAKE UP, CECI, IT’S AN EARTHQUAKE!!!’ . . . And by the way, I have to tell you that this earthquake was going on for about 2 minutes, only getting worse, and 2 minutes is huge for an earthquake. Complete with sound effects of a bunch of breaking glass (which turned out to be most of our plates and cups.)

“We saw these people, when we go down the stairs, with cell phones who helped us and used them like flashlights because it was pitch black in there. We FLEW down those stairs. A cheetah with wings couldn't beat us. We saw this big trail of blood when we got to the bottom and we found out it was because one of the decorative pieces of plaster on one of the pillars fell on a doorman's head, and some other doorman rushed him to the hospital. We spent the rest of the night panicking and watching the very early newscasts. Someone we met had a Blackberry and it had a New York Times app . . . and by 6:00 am here (4 am in NY) they had a story on the earthquake, impressive. eh? Anyway, besides the plaster, the building was fine, and we were so lucky to survive without a scratch.”

But unfortunately . . . many people just didn't survive at all. By now the death toll is 708. 60 are thought to be trapped under a 15-story building which completely collapsed, even though it was a new building and the architect said that it "adhered to building standards" . . . Anyway this building was in Concepcion . . . a town which happens to be the second biggest city in Chile. They had it much worse than Santiago for 3 reasons. 1: Concepcion is very close to the worst part of the earthquake, the epicenter. 2: Concepcion has much older architecture that will more likely collapse during an earthquake. 3: It is much poorer, which also contributes to the bad buildings.”

This mammoth of a quake has caused a tsunami that hit Maule. killing over 100 people. Valparaiso, a big port town nestled in between the hills and the sea, which was very beautiful and very picturesque but unfortunately also very old and poor . . . had worse architecture and houses that collapsed as they would roll off the hill into the sea. We went there three weeks ago, and it seemed it could fall off the cliffs any time.”

The roads from Valparaiso, where Santiago gets most of its food, have been destroyed, with cars overturned and many overpasses and bridges destroyed, so it is impassable. Even Santiago Airport has been destroyed—at least for while, so people can’t get in or out. Anyway, since the roads bring most of Chile’s food, the government warned the citizens of Santiago to expect 10+ days of no shipments into Santiago. Since this news, the supermarkets have been CRAZY with people rushing to buy their food for the next while.”

Fortunately, many charities are teaming up for Chile. OXFAM America . . . is sending in a team to help excavate people in the hopes that they might save some people who are still alive. Shelter Box is sending in their boxes full of practically everything you need to survive . . . The Red Cross (Cruz Rojo in Chile) is helping treat the injuries and provide services to the victims. The Salvation Army is trying to bring services and food to Chile. And you know the building that collapsed in Concepcion? Just on Sunday, 23 people were rescued and also 7 corpses found.”

If Chile wasn't a world leader in anti-seismic technology, Santiago would have been hit much worse by the 8.8 on the Richter Scale earthquake . . . Britain sent many people to help, and the European Union sent 3,000,000 euros. Hopefully we can help too.”

Also, schools are delayed for a week:) Anyway say hi to everyone for me. HI!!!!!”

Note from Susanna Peters, Sam’s mom: “The kids are canvassing for donations to Roja Cruz, Red Cross for Chile. They were on the ground right away and need dry goods, sleeping bags, etc.”

And from Cecilia . . .

“CECI, WAKE UP… IT’S AN EARTHQUAKE!” I was up in a second. Hmm… this explains the turbulent boat dream… No one was really dressed, and we were all hanging on to the doorframes just to stay up. I was convinced that our floor was no longer in line with the rest of the building and was just about to fall off the top, and we were all going to die. That’s a really different feeling then I have ever had before… Then I tried to hug Mom because I figured that if I was going to die, I was going to do it with someone. Except that she was looking around for--of all things--jackets (!) while we were all about to die. Maybe her last wish was to die with thermal clothing clutched in her hands??? Then we held on for life, and then it stopped and we could move again.

I was ready to charge down those stairs . . . but no, mom is STILL looking for jackets, and she tells me to put clothes on… oh right, THAT. Naked or dead? I was personally going for naked, but Mom had a death wish. So finally after getting shoes, backpacks, and of course the precious jackets, we headed down the black stairs--the fastest 15 floors I have ever gone!

We went out of the building to a small area with grass and benches, and there we sat. On the way, though, I was crying and not paying attention, and I almost walked into a car. Dad grabbed me first. Two almost-deaths in one night.

“We sat on the bench for a long time, and Dad reassured me that no, the building wouldn’t fall down onto us because it was bendy, and also the worst was over. …“Anyway, after awhile I finally managed to relax on our bench. Then of course a car alarm goes off. Those bloody car alarms . . . It’s like the soundtrack of Santiago. We left the bench and listened to a little radio. Well, Dad did. The rest of us couldn’t understand a word. Then more bench sitting . . . At 6:30 we went into the apartment lobby because it was declared safe. We watched a TV for more news. Well, then the death total was about 16, but now it’s above 700. Last we heard. It’s horrible.

“We made more friends than we had ever even seen before . . . Avoiding death with someone really helps your relationship. Anyway,  we went on a walk in the daylight, and that really calmed me down. It was like in the daytime, we are earthquake-immune. Stupid, but whatever. We felt so good that we actually went into the apartment, after people said that it had stopped swaying. Then it got scary with a big aftershock, so we left with sleeping bags and blankets and headed for the park. We slept there and felt better. Then we found a place on the street that had computers ,and so my Dad contacted people. ‘We’re fine, fine, fine,’ Dad apparently got 85 emails asking about us! Good way to be very popular!

“We got a little food and stuff, but the lines were insane. Do people think that we aren’t ever going to get food again or what?

“There were a bunch of people begging for food outside the store, and I felt really bad for them, so with the little money I brought, Sam and I gathered bread, cheese, juice boxes, and cookies, and made goodie bags to give out. We gave some to a kid who looked my age. I made sure he got cookies and the one with the extra piece of bread. I couldn’t even bring myself to give it to him though. I made Sam. Then there was a dad and a little boy, and we gave them a lot extra, and the little boy was so happy with the cookies and the juice and the bread! It was really great. We saved one to give away somewhere else, but as it turned out . . .

“Mom decided not to go back up to the apartment, so I brought her food and water and stuff (15 flights of stairs--no elevator) and I left her the last goodie bag. Mom decided that she (and by she here I mean we) were going to camp out in the lobby, and two of our new friends decided to stay with us, too. It seemed like most of the Chileans had left the building (I sometimes wonder where they all went? And I mean, if the natives are all leaving, why the heck are we still here?!?)”

“So then we find out that apparently there’s this super great Argentine soccer/futbol player named Sergio C…(yes, Santiago Morning!) living in our building, on the second floor to be specific; lucky guy. At the moment I would trade a deluxe apartment with a pool, on a high floor, for a one bedroom thing with cracking paint (wait; EVERYWHERE has cracked paint right now…) on the first. He saw all of us with our sleeping bags and he offered to let the five of us stay in his apartment because his kids and wife had gone on vacation before the quake. So, Mom, Sam, and I slept there, sort of—we were still pretty shaky, and at about 1:40 a.m. Mom wakes up and shouts, ‘CECI, IT’S ANOTHER EARTHQUAKE! GET UP, GET UP! Oh wait, I was just dreaming. Go back to bed.’ Yeah right, Mom. There was no way that I was going back to bed after the adrenaline rush you just gave me. So I spent the night not sleeping, shaking, and having convulsions at the slightest sound. Fun, fun, fun.

“The funny thing was that it was a lot like a Hollywood movie. A woman shouting ‘EARTHQUAKE’ in the middle of the night, people rushing out of their bedrooms, the glass shattering in the kitchen, beds rolling around, TVs crashing to the ground, sirens and fire. Then there was the blood in the lobby too . . . Maybe Hollywood is more accurate than they are given credit for!

“AND THAT’S THE END

After note, February 28th: All the stores have reopened. Yay! But we still have no water . . . Internet is iffy . . . the supermarkets are INSANE with people in lines stocking up. We went to the store and stocked up . . . with more junk food than we have ever had before, and school is cancelled for the week. Maybe something good has come out of this whole thing! (not really . . . )”

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Original URL: http://www.mtu.edu/news/stories/2010/march/story23904.html