Chilean Earthquake Reaction From a Resident

From – March 6, 2010

This has absolutely nothing to do with quilting, but it is something I felt compelled to share. Sometimes we wonder if the information we are receiving from news sources is as accurate as we would like.  I have an uncle who lives just south of Santiago, Chile.  He has been keeping us updated on the goings on in post earthquake Chile.  I wanted to share this latest missive because I just loved it.  I thought that it was inspirational.  People do terrible things and are sometimes awful to each other.  But there is also a great capacity for love.  When all eyes are on you, how do you behave?

Hi!  Just one more report on the situation here, in case you are growing weary of hearing about Chile’s big earthquake.


Overall, things have improved remarkably in what is now only a week since the first tremors.  The aftershocks continue, and some are at least strong enough to qualify as earthquakes in their own right.  That prevents lots of persons from returning to their homes, particularly if they are in tall buildings.  A couple nights ago, a fairly hard quake (over 6 points) hit Calama, in the far north.  That was felt in Bolivia and as far north as Peru.  According to the government, it was totally unrelated to the quake which hit Saturday.  At any rate, most of the construction in Calama is fairly modern, conforming to current building standards, and structural damage was reported to be zero.  It has to wear on ones nerves and peace of mind, however.  Fortunately, almost everyone’s attention is being diverted to a massive volunteer effort which has quickly involved the entire country.


About a day after the quake hit, persons’ nerves were also frayed by highly-publicized lootings and the ransacking of stores in the worst-hit areas.  The media loves news of that type.  By Wednesday, I was thinking of firing off some angry e-mails to the TV stations, pointing out that most Chileans are not thieves and hoodlums, as their “news” programming would suggest.  Meanwhile, law and order returned with a capital O.  This is partly because the delinquents were stupid with a capital S.  As they were running out of stores on Sunday, with televisions and computers and refrigerators, many were actually grinning at the many TV cameras in action.  The police requisitioned the news footage and identified plenty of the perpetrators.  Now the punks know that if a policeman in Chile more than taps you gently on the shoulder, you can have an army of sleaze-bag attorneys screaming to the judges and press about denial of human rights, excessive force, brutality, et cetera ad nauseum. What they didn’t know is that the rules change drastically when a region is placed under martial law.  The cops didn’t bother to make arrests; they simply turned the names and addresses over to the Army.  Ooops…big trouble for the low-life!  My Cuban friend Barbaro was laughing as he described what he saw on TV last night.  A couple punks were ransacking a store and soldiers were waiting outside when they reemerged. Barbaro said the soldiers beat the daylights out of those two, in plain view of the TV cameras.  Meantime, other soldiers were visiting the addresses they’d got from the police.  No polite knocks on the front door.  They’d kick the door down and go inside after the punks.  Right behind them were employees from the ransacked stores, who even had their delivery vans parked alongside the military vehicles. As the punks were being loaded into a truck to an Army jail, the store employees were recovering their stolen appliances, many of them still in original cartons.


A side note here: One of the unpleasant aspects of living in Chile the past several years has been a growing problem with delinquency, particularly the youthful variety.  The past four presidential administrations have been way too lenient.  This can be explained as a normal reaction to the excesses of the Pinochet dictatorship.  Many, including some of the highest officials of those four administrations, were treated very badly by the police state and, understandably, have a deep-seated reluctance to apply the heavy hand.  However, their reaction became an overreaction and was, I believe, the main reason the parties of the center-left lost the last presidential election.  Voting for Sebastian Pinera was not a rejection of Michelle Bachelet, who leaves office on Monday with an 87% approval rating. (Presidents here cannot run for a second consecutive term; Pinera’s opponent was a man from the Christian Democrat Party). The bulk of Pinera’s billboard ads carried a single message: “Delinquent…the party’s over.”  That was a brilliant campaign strategy, because he really hit a nerve. The vast majority of Chileans are law-abiding and their collective patience was wearing thin.  I, along with everyone I speak with on this subject, hope Pinera’s message was more than campaign rhetoric.  There was a rumor that the low-lifes have even been contacting one another by e-mails recently, to urge that the time to commit crimes is before the 8th of March (Inauguration Day).  For some of those in the quake-affected areas, the party ended a few days early.


On to matters far more positive: the reaction of concern and generosity on the part of millions of Chileans for the quake victims has been a wonder to behold.  This people have a strong volunteer culture: all fire departments are volunteer; there are numerous large and very active organizations dealing with all manner of social needs, such as the Chilean Red Cross, Hogar de Cristo, Techo Para Chile (somewhat like Habitats for Humanity in the U.S.), Telethon (for crippled children), etc.  As has been demonstrated in the past two days, these groups not only know how to get the job done, but they have armies of volunteers on call, to help as needed.


Telethon quickly set up a nationwide, phone-in donation program which, within 24 hours, is to raise fifteen-thousand-million pesos (imagine trying to write that number in the space available on a normal bank check) in cash donations.  This is to immediately build 20,000 houses in the quake area.  They won’t be large and they won’t be fancy, but surely they will beat living in a tent.  The event began at 10 Friday night and runs continuously for 24 hours.  Meanwhile, the Bank of Chile and Banco Santander have all their offices open the entire 24 hours, to collect donations. These are reported by telephone to Telethon.  At Telethon auditorium in Santiago , they are broadcasting on all the TV networks with performances by recording stars, actors, etc. Most Telethon events are held in the national stadium, but authorities are afraid to bring together that many persons in any single structure while such strong aftershocks continue.  Walking through downtown Castro this morning, I think every other person I saw was wearing a “ Chile ayuda a Chile ” badge, which means they had made a cash donation at one of the banks.  There were no long lines in Bank of Chile – Castro this morning, but last night there were.  Long lines of persons waiting patiently to make their donations.


It’s not just cash donations.  In concert with the main telethon in Santiago , the other towns in Chile connected via their local stations, such as the educational TV station in Castro.  Here, they hurriedly blocked off a downtown street last evening, high school kids put together a big stage and scaffolding for loudspeakers, and they started collecting whatever folks would bring.  I wasn’t there, but Barbaro said it was an unbelievable sight.  The campesinos (farmers) north of town had harvested and sacked potatoes during the day and brought in five large trucks full. Another farmer showed up in his old truck, carrying a huge live hog to donate.  I don’t know how they’re going to get that pig clear to Concepcion , but at least they should have plenty of spuds to feed it in the meantime.


In La Serena, Chile ’s top professional tennis stars were staging an all-night tennis marathon to raise money and donations of other items.  The actors of Santiago put up a stage behind the presidential palace and staged all-night theatrical performances.  Hogar de Cristo has hundreds of young student volunteers standing outside probably every grocery store and pharmacy in the country.  They are really organized.  They have a row of shopping carts lined up and hand you a small list as you enter the store, to tell what they need.  I had never in my life purchased sanitary napkins nor baby diapers, but I did yesterday when I went to buy margarine at O’Higgin’s Market.  The most emotional sight to me was one they showed on TV this morning.  It was broadcast from a coastal town that was absolutely flattened by a tidal wave.  Nothing of their former houses stood more than a foot high.  Yet, these folks were making cash donations to “Chile ayuda a Chile ,” to help others more in need than themselves.  How is it possible to be more in need than those poor persons?  JIM

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Karen Dennison

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