Shake, shake, shake …

Poor Chile. What a bad rap it gets sometimes.
As a seismically active country, Chile has its fair share of tremors (“temblores” as they’re called here) and they occur almost every day in any given area. Granted, they’re not all major quakes, but regardless of how “big” they may be, the fact remains that there are tiny earthquakes each and every day here. It’s part of our everyday life and if you are thinking of visiting or living here, you need to KNOW this is an everyday occurrence.

Earthquakes registered by year along Chile's coastline.The latest earthquake was actually a “replica” or an aftershock and it occurred on April 2nd in Iquique, coming in at 7.6 on the Richter scale. The reason this aftershock was considered as such and not a full blown earthquake is because on April 1st the northern part of Chile was rocked by a magnitude 8.2 earthquake … i.e. anything less than that is obvi an aftershock (so it would seem).

Anywhere else in the world the 7.6 aftershock would have been labeled a full blown earthquake and a state of catastrophe would have been issued. Anywhere else in the world, half the city (or more) would be a crumbled mess and chaos would ensue for weeks, if not, months. Back in February 2010, I wrote about my experience living through an 8.8 earthquake here in Chile. The aftershocks of that earthquake were NUMEROUS and the strongest one, if I remember correctly, was somewhere between 6.5 and 7 on the Richter scale.

Like some people back home wonder, you’re probably also wondering: “How can you live there? It’s like you’re constantly stressed out wondering when the next big one is coming! No thanks!”
I’ll use five words to try and explain how this is possible …

It’s part of life here.

Allow me to further explain because those five words obvi don’t provide much solace to anyone wishing to visit – or worse – anyone who finds themselves having to move down here for whatever reason.
Recently an article was published about this same issue and the title is pretty clever considering Chilean’s reactions to so many earthquakes: “Why don’t Chileans run when there are earthquakes?” The article goes on to state many reasons and (if you read Spanish) I think it’s worth a read because it gives you a glimpse of what the culture is like in general in response to a natural disaster such as an earthquake.

In the almost five years I’ve lived in Chile, I’ve experienced more earthquakes than I ever did in the 29 years living in the San Francisco Bay Area (the largest and ONLY earthquake was in 1989) and they’ve ranged anywhere from 4-pointers to almost 9!! That’s a whole lotta shakin’ and through it all I’ve learned that my own reactions have begun to mirror the reactions of true Chileans who have lived here their entire lives.


When the earth starts shaking here, the first reaction is, simply, wait it out. True story. You sit and wait to see if it’s going to stay tolerable or if it’s going to get bigger. Most of the time it stays within a reasonable range and by adopting this “wait it out” policy, you spare yourself the embarrassment of doing the weird things people do when they freak out. I think this, combined with the fact that Chileans grow up with earthquakes and earthquake drills in school, makes it seem like Chileans are unfazed by earthquakes. That’s not the case. I know that earthquakes are scary and most Chileans will tell you that they don’t like them, but they’ve learned to live with them mainly because they’re part of everyday life here.

Also, if you have to live with earthquakes, there really is no better place than Chile, architecturally speaking. Chile has some of the strictest building guidelines EVER! Need proof? The 2010 earthquake that struck Léogâne, Haiti caused over 100,000 deaths and annihilated a great part of the affected area’s infrastructure. That earthquake measured 7.0 on the Richter scale. In comparison, the structural damage caused by the most recent earthquake in Chile (remember, it measured 8.2) a few days ago is minimal in comparison.

That doesn’t mean that Chile hasn’t learned lessons along the way. As mentioned, in 2010 over 500 people died mainly because the President of Chile, Michele Bachelet, and her advisors, didn’t give evacuation orders in a timely manner (most people died in the tsunami that hit post earthquake.) I guess you can say that this time around the dear President (the same one!) and her peeps were overly cautious and as a result, gave evacuation orders almost immediately! Hence, despite Chile’s most recent natural disaster and the destruction it caused, the death toll remains at six.

Don't let them know you're faking it!
Don’t let them know you’re faking it!

So come on down to Chile. Frolic, run and be free. Have a grand time because when the ground shakes (and it wiiiiilllllll) just know that you’ll most likely be ok. Just do as the locals do and you’ll be fine. You know – blend.

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Big Pictures – Extent of Earthquake

My cousin had this link on his Facebook page and for some reason looking at these images just really made me realize THAT MUCH MORE the extent of this earthquake. There are images from Santiago that I had no idea existed … areas where the earthquake really did do damage.

And once again, all I can do is thank God for how lucky we are … the Santiago pics are things I haven’t seen around me at all. Thankfully where we live, this is not what we see when we step out the door.


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The Aftermath

We decided to go to Jumbo (one of the major grocery store chains in Chile) today and it was a madhouse … literally the lines extended farther than I had EVER seen them… note below:

In his usual strategic/baller manner, G had the great idea to wait in the “15 items or less” line while I weaved around each aisle gathering items we might need for the next few days. We gathered 30 items and each paid separately. We beat the system! Boo-yah!!
But seriously, the grocery store was a NIGHTMARE mess. I think it’s insane that we’re all over-reacting (and I include myself… why else did I head to Jumbo today along with five billion other peeps?) The fact of the matter is that at least here in Santiago, where damage was minimal, life will most likely be ‘back to normal’ by Wednesday, if not sooner. Yet there we were, with half of Santiago, buying groceries as if the world was about to end. If that were the case (and we realize it’s not, thank God) then I shouldn’t be buying ice cream … considering I only had a 30 item quota, you can see my priorities … enough said.

The biggest issue we have right now is G’s kids. They are in the “campo” which is basically a rural area, type of farm-ish zone, where his ex wife’s family has a house there. Normally this is a great place for his kids to spend their weekends, as this place has animals, a pool, nature, fields to run wild, etc. AKA a kid’s dream.
But after yesterday morning’s events, the fact that they are in the middle of nowhere means that cell phone reception and electricity are likely to come back in full effect daaaaaaaaaays from now. As a parent, this is stressing G out like NO OTHER. And I don’t blame him. He spoke with his kids this morning and learned that they had slept int the car with their mom because the family home was unstable (at least one wall had come down in the mostly adobe built house.) Now he can’t get through to them at all. Since there’s no power there, the most likely scenario is that his ex’s cell phone died … and even though he knows they are safe after the EQ and that their mom and family members are with them, that doesn’t mean it allows G to worry less about them. Let’s think about this: his kids have no running water, no electricity, no way to get out of where they are due to road closures … and they’re sleeping in a car. He’s sure that food isn’t an issue since they’re basically on a working farm, but as a parent, after a major natural disaster, he’s not going to rest until he literally SEES that his kids are ok. If he hasn’t heard from or about them by tomorrow evening, most likely he’ll grab his car and try to reach them once again. (Note my previous post to learn about his first attempt to reach them).

G has been watching the news NON-STOP since the EQ. Literally nonstop. At first it really, really annoyed me. After all, we were SO FORTUNATE to not have any major catastrophe happen here in Santiago where we live – why on Earth was he listening to one major catastrophe after another on tv (all near the epicenter zone)? Then he set me straight: he’s the equivalent of a VP here and many, many people throughout Chile report to him…yet there are handful of people – of those, some who live right where the epicenter occurred – which he hasn’t heard from yet. Are they ok? Do they have homes? Are their loved ones accounted for? He watches the news to see what’s the latest in each region of Chile. Further, he watches for the simple fact that he hopes to hear that the roads are clear … that way he can either reach his children or their mother can decide to drive back to Santiago. Needless to say, I am now keeping my mouth shut about the 24-hour news reports in the house…

Finally, my thoughts post-traumatic earthquake are these:

1) I f-ing hate the aftershocks. 11 floors up and believe me they feel like new earthquakes ALL OVER again. Not fun.

2) The emergency response in Chile is inspiring… though I’m concerned that not once did I hear about a tsunami warning for the Juan Fernandez Islands here in Chile …yet they were devastated by a tsunami and about 20 people are missing.

3) Looting and delinquency is prevalent in the southern regions (7th and 8th) because these poor people have no food, no water, no electricity and thus far, no help has arrived. A curfew is in effect from 9 pm to 6 am in the city of Concepcion in order to halt the said looting and vandalism. In Santiago – at least in the comuna of Providencia where we live – things are very quiet and very “normal.” Our visit to the grocery store was chaotic in terms of masses, but surprisingly orderly.

4) I’m tired and have lost all sense of normalcy. Until G’s kids are back in Santiago and he’s secure in their well-being; until we see advanced efforts in restoring basic infrastructure and necessities to the 7th and 8th regions of Chile; until the aftershocks cease and we all remember what it’s like to just live in peace at home –> I’m not going to rest well.

In Santiago – in Providencia specifically (as that’s all I can speak to since this is where we live) – we are SO FORTUNATE. I see no major structural damages when I walk outside and I see no one in a panic about missing family members or missing necessities. Yeah the grocery store was a mess, but it was an ORDERLY mess, if that makes sense. Everything we needed was THERE and there was no panic about that.

I wish this same tranquility to everyone who has been displaced and has felt immense misfortune and tragedy by yesterday’s early morning events. After such an event, nothing calms the nerves more than NORMALCY. I wish I could say to all of them “come to my home, I’ll take care of you” but of course that’s not possible. So in place of that, I just hope that G’s kids make it back to Santiago safely and that we can once again welcome them into our home this coming weekend …

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Ack! Earthquake in Chile!…and I live here.

Sweet BeJeezus, that was scary!!

I’m not talking the “normal” kind of earthquake scary either … the kind I knew before today. After living in the SF Bay Area for over 29 years, I thought I was pretty accustomed to feeling the ground move every so often.

But no matter how accustomed you think you are … nothing prepares you for 2+ minutes of NON-STOP 8.8 ground movement and subsequent shaking, thundering, crashing and breaking that occurs with it.

Obviously we were in bed, G and I… and actually I had just gotten into bed after a bathroom break (TMI). I was commending myself and my dog for breaking the 3am barrier – i.e. the dog has stopped waking us up in the mornings whining from boredom. It was 3:15 am, baby was tired and we had a full day of wedding planning ahead of us…I closed my eyes, ready to enter my sweet lull.

Aaaaaaaaaaaaand cue in the earth rolling … like riding a wave, I imagine. Except being from an earthquake zone (SF Bay Area) one always first determines if the quake is going to stay put or suddenly get all agro on you.
In the most abrasive of manners I jolt G up with “It’s an earthquake.” He sits up with me to proceed with the analysis: is this going to roll along like this or is this going get ugly?

OH. And then it truly got UUUUUUUUUUUUGLY. Now, mind you, at this point we’ve been rolling along with the wave for a good 30 seconds and as each 15-second interval ticked by, the once-rolling motion proceeded to turn into sharp movements, jolting us back and forth. We live on the 11th floor, the topmost floor of our building, and since buildings in Chile are “earthquake ready,” on the top floor you tend to feel each and every roll and jab TIMES TWENTY. And the thing is, the quake didn’t stop… it didn’t ease up or roll into a slow sweep… it not only kept going but it kept getting STRONGER AND STRONGER as each second, then MINUTE, ticked by. One by one I could hear things from other rooms crash to the floor; glass breaking, water splashing; thud, thud, crash, thud, shatter…and alongside those noises you hear the immense, RAW POWER of this monstrous earthquake that’s taking you on this SOOOOOO-unsolicited ride.

I was at the door frame, holding on until my fingers hurt … G was across from me in the bedroom holding our TV in place so that it wouldn’t fall on our puppy below (who by they way, was FREAKING OUT.) I remember thinking “it’s going to stop… it’s going to stop, it HAS TO STOP, it’s been so long” and realizing that the quake just kept going and going and getting stronger and stronger. At which point I seriously, cross-my-heart-stick-a-needle-in-my-eye thought to myself “Oh my God, I’m going to die in this earthquake. This building is going to fall and we’re going to die.” And NEVER, EVER have I had a thought like that, where for a second it was this peaceful-type realization that “this is it.”

And then, of course, thank God, it did stop. And that’s when the panic set in.

Our mom’s live in the next “comuna” over, each in her own apartment but in the same building. Once I realized we were ok, all I could think about was my mom and her insane fear of earthquakes … and the fact that she was alone. Quickly, G and I got dressed, grabbed the dog, ran down eleven flights of stairs IN THE DARK, dove into the car and raced through disabled stop lights to get to our moms’ homes. Our moms where upset, of course, but once we got there and everyone was gathered outside, there was a sense of security. Unfortunately that security didn’t lend itself to the other issue at hand: mobile phone connections and land lines were collapsed and G’s kids were outside Santiago with their mom. For more than two hours G tried to get through just to make sure his kids were ok–> and NOTHING. No calls were getting through. He finally decided to drive the hour and a half drive to where they were – not that he had clear directions on how to get there (he was working off memory). 40 minutes later he calls me to tell me that he can’t get through… the roads were closed due to collapsed overpass pedestrian walkways and crumbled pavement that ran for stretches at a time. I can’t imagine the torture he was going through not knowing if his kids were ok …and it was torture for me to know there was nothing I could do to help… [Update: his kids ARE ok and yes, he was able to talk to them. They’re shaken and freaked out, but ok.] In the end he came back to my mom’s apartment … by then, none of us had eaten for over 12 hours and we certainly hadn’t slept. But the sun was up. It was morning. Electricity was back at my mom’s house. Those three things combined brought some feeling of security back. So we packed up our dog, his things, my mom (who came over to help clean up) and we headed back home, ready to face the mess that we briefly saw on our way out at 4 am.

Considering how fierce the earthquake was and how intense it felt, I’m surprised we didn’t have more damage. At most we lost some cool picture frames. At best we have a crack going down the wall of our apartment’s foyer to forever remind us of this atrocious event. We have friends here in Chile who live waaaaaaaaaay higher up than we do and the damage to their apartments was far worse … not so much in terms of structure (like I said, Chilean buildings are “earthquake ready” thank God) but in terms of stuff thrown everywhere! We were spared, I think. In more ways than one.

The table in the front foyer, as you walk into the apartment. Plant and picture frames on the ground; area rug soaked. The crashing of this vase to the floor was not a welcome sound during the ‘rolling-with-the-homies’ episode.

The scene as we walked in to the dining room/living room area. Picture frames, meet the floor. Charmed, I’m sure.

This was a fun sight … our yet-to-be-thoroughly-paid tv toppled over. That’s the center table leaning in to kiss it hello. [Btw, we now know the tv is fine. And she’s ok!]

And my office… which actually, now that I think about it, kind of always looks like this. Maybe slightly less messy.

In the end, my review for “Earthquake Chile 2010” is a big, fat, thumbs down. Please don’t ever let me/us have to go through another 2.5 minute event that has us literally holding on for dear life. I’d like to take a “pass” on the aftershocks that continue to shake the city (and the country for that matter), most of which feel as if they’re 5-6 points, given how high up we are. But on the other hand, I was amazed at how the Chilean people came to one another’s aid in this crisis – even if it’s to merely ask “hey, how are you?” (Which, by the way, is precisely what our neighbors did after the shaking stopped.) There’s security in talking about what you went through and a feeling of safety in knowing that others went through the same thing. And I do have to say that the outpouring of concern and well wishers on my Facebook page was humbling. While I would rather never again have to go through what we went through at approximately 3:30 am Chilean time today, it serves to remind me how forever grateful I am… and in this case, I’m grateful that we survived.

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