On the 16th September 2015 there was an earthquake of magnitude 8.4 in Chile. I was in Salta, Argentina, and learnt the news in the restaurant where I went to have dinner.
- ‘Did you hear? There’s been a strong earthquake in Chile’
- ‘Oh no, where?’
- ‘In the central region’
I knew that 8.4 is strong even for Chilean standards, who are “used” to magnitude 6 quakes. My thoughts went fast: central Chile >> Santiago >> oh no, my friends!
I remember very well the 8.8 earthquake that took place in 2010. My Chilean friends and I were all living in Toulouse, France. That time, electricity and communications were down for several days, so they had difficulties to get news from their families and friends.
I immediately contacted them but keeping in mind that it might take some time to receive news. Fortunately both of them answered my messages that day. My friends were fine.
After that I learnt that the most affected region was Coquimbo, about 130km north of Santiago. While life in Santiago was normal on Thursday, it was not the case in Coquimbo where there were water and electricity cuts.
Living an earthquake is something I would not like to experience. I must admit, though, that if I ever have to live one, I would prefer to be in Chile. Chile is ready for natural disasters. Buildings are earthquake proof, and evacuation routes in case of volcano eruption or tsunami are indicated in prone areas. In Pucon I even got a map of the town with the evacuation routes included.
Earthquakes and volcanoes were a common conversation topic with locals when I was there, and it was interesting to hear their personal experiences. As an outsider, I see natural disasters as the end of the world. They are terrible events, with victims and people who lose everything they own. Some people, however, were able to tell me their experience with a calm matter-of-fact tone, others even with humor. I truly admire them.
The Vicente Perez Rosales National Park, in The Lakes region, was the most touristic park in the area. However, when I was there in June it was covered with ashes from the volcano Calbuco, which had erupted in April. It was impressive to see how the ground level had increased, visible because some of the signals were now close to the ground. Saltos del Petrohué, a popular spot inside the park, was closed since the eruption and some people had lost their jobs.
There are a lot of other active volcanoes.
“Do you see volcano Osorno, the white cone over there? It is covered in snow and there is a glacier on the crater. If there is ever an eruption, the glacier might explode and the melting of the snow could provoke a tsunami on lake Llanquihue”.
When I was in Valdivia I visited the Niebla fortress with an Argentinian guy I met in the hostel. We were alone in the fortress when we heard a warning alarm.
- ‘What’s that?’
- ‘No idea’
- ‘Well, there are no volcanoes here, right?’
- ‘Errrr actually there are three nearby’
We suddenly stopped walking and looked around, almost expecting to see an explosion and a huge column of smoke going up to the sky.
No smoke. Only silence.
- ‘What time is it?’
- ‘Exactly noon’
- ‘Ahhhhh it must be a test’, he said in relieve.
Earthquake 2010: personal stories
“It happened during the night. People got down to the streets as they were sleeping, with pajamas, sexy pajamas, underclothes… or even naked! For a while nobody dared entering their houses”
“When the earthquake started, the first concern of my father was to hold the cuckoo. He did not even get dressed!”
“The worst of an earthquake is not the earthquake itself. Here buildings are constructed to resist. The worst is the tsunami that comes afterwards, that causes much more damage”
“Conception was very affected in 2010. For several days there was no electricity, we went back in time and that strengthened the feeling of community. Those days people met in the streets, cooked together and shared whatever food was available. Sadly this was over when electricity came back, everyone went home to watch their television”
“I was with some friends and we had just watched a science-fiction film. It was surreal, we almost thought it was a UFO attack! Some of my friends started praying”
“We were in a disco, drinking and dancing. At the beginning we did not realize there was an earthquake, it was like part of the special effects… light, music and movement! We understood something was wrong when the lights fell on us”
“We were in a tent at the base of a volcano that we were studying. Our fist thought was ‘oh no, the volcano!’. Fortunately there was a vulcanologist among us. ‘Don’t worry, volcanoes do not create such strong movement’ she said, barely able to stand ‘this is only a very strong earthquake!’”
Nature… so beautiful, powerful and terrible at the same time, able to change everything in a matter of seconds.
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