Saved by the Camellia Tree! Earthquake in Chile, 1960
The beauty of the Camellia Tree
Deep pink double Camellia
A pure white Camellia
A pale pink Camellia
Description of a Camellia Bush or Tree
The Camellia is a beautiful flower, growing on an evergreen tree, with nice shiny dark green leaves. When very young, it is just a bush, but a mature Camellia becomes a tree, with a hard brown trunk that is not too thick, but quite firm. It takes on an umbrella shape, with several branches that widen out near the top. The tallest I've seen here in Concepcion, Chile, has been over three meters high. It is sometimes difficult to reach the flowers; you would need a short ladder to pick them.
The Camellia flowers in winter and most blooms survive relatively strong storms, but during these same storms, the flowers can get bruised and the petals turn a yellowy brown color. One can also see a sprinkling of Camellia petals on the ground under the tree. These correspond to flowers that have ended their life span, the petals just fall off.
The colors vary from a creamy white to a deep ruby red, and can show various shades of pink, from the palest of pale, to a really deep pink. Sometimes the flowers will show petals of mixed colors, and it is possible to have flowers with various different shades and marks on the same tree.
In our family wanderings while living here in Chile, very occasionally, we were lucky enough to take over a house and find a Camellia tree already set up in the garden, as they grow slowly. At my present living place, there are two small bushes that are coming along quite nicely. I hope to see them grow up!
A view of a Camellia Bush
Our Camellia Tree produced this kind of flower
The Tree also gave us Camellias like this one
And sometimes the flowers looked like this one
The most expensive Camellia Tree in the World!
In a previous Article on HubPages about me Grandmother Madge’s various gardens, I have written about the many times we moved house over the years, until we finally settled down in Concepcion, Chile.
In 1956, my father bought a property with the intention of building our “definite” house there. He chose what had been a relatively old property, belonging to a British family that had died out. It was a large piece of ground that had once had a big sprawling house surrounded by large gardens. The house no longer stood, but the foundations were still there, a really strong old fashioned affair made up of enormous stones that formed a platform that was raised high off the ground to avoid the dampness in that area which was close to the great Biobio river.
My father got first choice of one half of this property, and he chose the part that had the foundations, with the idea of saving money on their construction. The plan of our house-to-be did not quite coincide with the shape of these foundations, he still had to consider prolonging the platform towards the back of the property, but it was still a great save!
Now it so happened that in front of what had been the wall of the old house on the side that faced the street, there was a mature Camellia tree, quite fully grown and flowering beautifully. With the idea of getting the best fit for the house using the old foundations, my father planned to eliminate this obnoxious tree!
He was confronted by all three generations of women, my Granny Madge, my mother and me, outraged at the very idea of chopping down the Camellia tree! After a lot of shouting, my mother announced that he would have to cut the tree down “over her dead body”. This turned the tide of the battle, as my mother was usually a quiet, peaceful person, who rarely shouted about anything!
The tree was saved, and the house was moved further back, which included building more foundations than my father had originally calculated on doing. This in turn meant spending quite a lot more money!
Well, we finally moved in to this new house, and my mother started to decorate the coffee table in the living room, with her flower arrangements, using her Dahlias and also the Camellias, according to the seasons.
When anybody visited, the first thing was always an exclamation about the beauty of these flower arrangements. When it happened to be the Camellia flowers, my father could be heard to mutter: “They had better be beautiful; those are the most expensive Camellias ever!”
Destruction in Concepcion Chile 1960
Damaged buildings, 1960
The happenings of the year 1960
There we were, happily living in our own house, all those moves to here and there completely forgotten. The house was made of good Chilean wood, basically one story high, with a very large attic under the roof. This attic was where I lived in great comfort. All the center area was one big space, and I had a small bathroom included, with my bed stuck in under the eaves where the roof started to slope down. My bed was at the back end of this long attic, and the stairs were at the front, near the front door.
On the 21st of May, 1960, at about 6.10 am, we were violently shaken awake by the first of the great earthquakes of that weekend. The fact that the house was made of wood allowed it to bend and sway with this shake, which registered at 8.3 Richter. That was the good part; the bad part was that my attic was moving around so much, I never got further along than the end of my bed. The 3 minutes plus that the movement lasted were eternal, as I crouched down, hanging on to the foot of my bed. I remember thinking that if it didn't stop soon, the house was going to crack open. I never got anywhere near the stairs until the shake subsided, and then I had to climb over the mound of books and overturned stands on the way to the door.
The light went off, of course, this happens automatically with any shake that registers at 6.3 or over. So we had to wait until daylight to see what was what. In the meantime the skies opened and the rain teamed down, after 5 months of extra dry weather. This was not so good for the people out on the street in front of the ruins of their houses, but really good for controlling the various fires that broke out in the downtown area.
From our front garden, the scene was like something out of Dante’s Inferno, with lightening crossing the sky and the glow of the fires on the horizon, while all the time we were rocked by the after-shakes.
We spent some time collecting clothes, the remains of dishes, candles, and sorting out usable food. There was no light, no water and no gas for our kitchen stove, we spent the following 15 days cooking on a charcoal brazier.
Taking stock of our two cars, we found the big, heavy, old-fashioned Chevrolet station wagon - the family vehicle – was displaced all the way down to the gate, but in good working order. The little Morris Minor that I usually drove, and which I had left outside on the street the night before, was steeply inclined towards its right side: both the front and back wheel on the right had been “swallowed” and were buried in the earth. My father and I were able to dig the Morris out with spades, and put it upright, and oh miracle! it worked just fine!.
Faulty terrain in 1960 earthquake
Faulty terrain will always cause damage
During the earthquakes of 1960, there were many changes in the terrain levels. Some were shallow, like ours, and some were really big cracks that caused a lot of destruction.
We discover the fault in the terrain
When we finally got more or less straightened out and had collected our wits, we took stock outside of our property, with the intention of checking on our neighbors and organizing the drinking water situation with the use of the old wells that were still usable in the small valley where we lived.
It was then that we realized that there was this long fault in the terrain, where the ground had simply sunk down and changed its level. The fault started in the next block at the foot of the hill located at the end of that street. It cut across the street and passed diagonally through the adjacent block, damaging several houses. It then entered the street that ran in front of our house and came down the pavement on our side, destroying the underground tubes that transported the water and the gas. This was the reason for the Morris Minor being partially buried.
The fault then turned in through our property, skirted the Camellia tree, which survived very happily, just nicked the corner of the house itself, cut across the empty plot next door, plunged under the next house that had its back to us, cut across that street, met up with the next small hill at the other side of our valley, and finally died out, just before destroying part of the railway that runs along the northern bank of the Biobio river..
Needless to say, if my father had won the “battle of the Camellia tree” and placed the house further forwards towards the street, all the front would have been caught by the fault, and there is no kind of construction that can withstand a fault in the ground under the foundations, much less a wooden house. The house would have split open, carrying the staircase with it, which was the way down for me out of my attic. The effect on the second floor attic in general, doesn’t bear thinking about, or trying to imagine, it simply would have been a disaster!
Fortunately for my father’s bruised pride, there was no opportunity to claim the female victory at that time, as the very next day, on the 22nd of May, the great earthquake at Valdivia struck the country just after 3.00 o’clock in the afternoon.
This particular earthquake is known as the strongest the world has ever recorded, at 9.5 on the Richter scale. It lasted for more than 10 minutes, causing a tidal wave that not only destroyed the southern coast of Chile, but also swept across the Pacific, affecting Hawaii, the Philippines, Japan, New Zealand, California and more, with waves over 10 meters high. The Puyehue Volcano near Osorno on the Chilean mainland came out of its slumber, remembered that it was active and erupted. The destruction was great and many lives were lost.
The effect on Concepcion was terrible; many people thought it was the end of the world. Since the Spaniards started keeping records in the 15th century, it was unheard of to suffer two major earthquakes in just over 24 hours. The Valdivia earthquake hit Concepcion with a force of 8.1 Richter, just a little less than the one on the day before. As we were on what is called the “tail-end” of the movement, it was even longer in Concepcion, nearly 15 eternal minutes.
The scientists finally concluded that Chile had been affected by a “swarm” of earthquakes, all of them of a major intensity, with epicenters that spread all the way down to the Taitao peninsula, in the uninhabited regions of the Patagonia. The shakes followed so closely together, that we perceived them as one long event, and in general it was a pretty fierce experience.
I intend to write about Chile’s earthquakes and my personal experience of them in another Hub. Let me just say here that the Camellia tree was accepted as a valued member of our small family, and my father invited his trio of women out to a delicious and luxurious dinner to celebrate our stubbornness over saving this beautiful and noble tree!
© 2012 joanveronica (Joan Robertson)