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My first earthquake experience
It started June 2009 when it came through my mind the idea of going to this foreign country Chile for physiotherapy for my son. He's been diagnosed since 6 months old that he has a developmental delay. And when he turned one year old in July 2009, Doctors started pushing the idea of putting him on equipment. I refused to believe that,so I researched and found that an excellent physiotherapist resides in Chile , where many family went to him and he succeeded in helping their kids be independent with his nontraditional physiotherapy technique.
Long story short, we arrived to Chile Santiago 12 pm (local time) on February 14,2010. My son was 19 months old. It was me, my husband and of course my son. The plan was to get one month of intensive therapy, which started February 15,2010.
Friday, February 26,2010:
I was preparing myself for my husband's going back to Canada the following night, and me staying with Nemer in Chile another two weeks to continue his physiotherapy.
Saturday, February 27,2010:
We woke up in the middle of the night "which we knew later it was around 3:30 am" at the alarm in our apartment. My husband got out of bed to check it out, I sat up in bed trying to keep Nemer asleep "in the stroller". Outside I heard police,ambulance, and fire trucks crazy sirens, and all of a sudden I felt that the bed was slightly shaking, I looked at the dark room I saw everything shaking, the room, my son's strollers, the walls, night stands, my glass of water.
My husband entered the room puzzled trying to take in what's happening. We knew for sure it's an earthquake. I quickly grapped nemer out of his stroller, and held him closely , the shaking kept going harder and harder , my husband hugged me and Nemer setting on the bed, I tried 3 times to close and open my eyes to wake up from this horrible nightmare but hell it was real. The only thing I could hear was my husband's praying: please God no, and the roof on top of our head cracking. Once I heard that, I said: we have to leave the room. We ran out, me in my pj's,and my husband with only the towel around him. When we left the apartment I remember hearing banging on doors and screaming. We went in panic with other residents down the stairs. It was completely dark, we couln't see where were we stepping. We were at the eighth floor. My husband was holding my son, and I was holding his hand helping him and me finding the steps. At those scary moments I think that the shaking was getting lighter and eventually it stopped. All that was only in less than a minute.Finally we're at the lobby, then we hurried outside the building.
Lots of panicked people were standing out there, looking up at the 20 floors high building. Some of them were crying, others were holding their family members or fiends, and some were just going in circles probably thinking is this real?
I thanked God that my son was alive in my hands. I was shaking, my husband's face expression was full of fear.
Nemer was quite, he actually was smiling in my arms. Come to think about it , he likes being vigorously rocked, so If he had felt the shaking then he would be happy about it.
It was chilly outside. We stood out there for around five hours. Eventually my husband went up to bring some stuff for us: mainly Jackets and food and stroller for our son. Of course he was panicking going up 8 floors with no lights , grabbing the stuff from our dark room then hurrying back down.
Everybody around us was speaking Spanish. The people, the news on the small TV in the lobby. We couldn't understand anything or even ask anyone anything in English. Which made it even harder for us. That moment I felt I'm lost.
When I was able to think, I had lots of questions in my mind: is this really happening to us? Why now? What are we going to do now? Should I stay to continue my son's therapy now that I'm finally in Chile? Should we just take the first flight back to Canada?
I was so confused I ended up crying not knowing what to do.
I came here to help my son, having high hopes, and now I'm thinking about his survival!
We stayed standing out there. Eventually we found two couples from Canada who speaks English. It was a relief.
While we were standing there, around 7 am I felt the floor under my feet was moving, I looked up the building and I saw it shaking on both sides, so I ran away from the building with my son in his stroller.Of course it was an aftershock that we kept feeling many times later.
Around 8 am everybody went up to either check their rooms or grab their stuff and drive away with their cars.
We went up as well. Still shaking and very alert.
All the lines were down. We wanted to send our relatives and friends back home that we are fine. During panicking we lost my Canadian cell phone, my Chilean phone wasn't working obviously. But we managed to send an email from a Canadian blackberry of a friend we knew there to my father in middle east and my sister in Canada so they can let everybody else know that we are alive.
Finally, when the Internet was back , we were able to read the news in English. So we learned it was an earthquake rated a magnitude of 8.8 . The cities that experienced the strongest shaking and had huge damage were Arauco and Coronel. There was tsunami warnings in 53 countries. The president of Chile declared a state of catastrophe. The estimated death toll was 497.
We also learned later that this earthquake was so powerful that it may have shortened the length of the day by 1.26 microseconds and moved the Earth’s figure axis by 8 cm or 2.7 milliarcseconds. It also moved the city of Concepción 3.04 metres to the west. The capital Santiago, moved almost 24 centimetres west, and Buenos Aires shifted 3.9 centimetres.
The damage in the south was horrible, houses were down, people in the street. And the tsunami made it even worst.
We were lucky to be in Santiago , to survive this strong earthquake. When i saw the damage in the news and look at the standing Santiago, I couldn't believe that I was in the same country that has all this damage. I read that buildings in Santiago were designed to tolerate earthquakes rating a magnitude of 12.
It wasn't easy at all staying in the country, feeling the aftershocks every day. The nights were the worst part. The memory of the night of the earthquake comes back to you. I couldn't sleep at all.
But we stayed a week after the earthquake. We finished my son's therapy. Our flight back to Toronto was March 6,2010. The airport was heavily damaged from the shock, so they built huge tents outside. I have to say that this country is really organized, clean and modern. My only complaint is that you can rarely find someone who understands a language other than Spanish.
Some earthquake safety tips that I've learned after having this experience:
*Take cover under a desk or table.
* Stay indoors until the shaking stops.
* Stay away from furniture that can fall on you.
* Stay away from windows.
* If you are in bed, stay there, protecting your head with a pillow.
* If you are outdoors, find a clear spot away from buildings, trees, and power lines. Drop to the ground.
* If you are in a car, slow down. Stay in the car until the shaking stops.
An earthquake can happen anywhere on this planet. It's not a feeling that you have everyday. For me it changes some of my priorities. One of them to be always prepared with important documents, and have a bag with packed stuff for my baby :)