Sunday, February 28, 2010

The Aftershocks

Twenty-four hours later and we've had countless aftershocks, 90 of them over 5.0, some of them 6.1, even.

On Saturday afternoon, I rode my bike to work. For some reason I grabbed my Chilean flag and wore it over my backpack. I needed to feel like a part of all this. I needed to feel that I loved my country in good times and in bad. Reading this makes it seem so fucking dumb, but it was comforting. I didn't even notice if people saw the flag while I rode down the street. It wasn't about giving a show, it's just something I needed to do.

I got to the office, finally. It had power and Internet, which was a relief. I charged my phone and sat down with my laptop. I surfed the web anxiously, and I slowly got drenched with what was happening. An earthquake, a real earthquake. I read an article on fox news that compared our earthquake with Haiti's. The headline: "Chile Was Prepared for Earthquake, Haiti Wasn't." Yes, we're a seismic country. We have quite possibly the world's worst location, leaving us vulnerable to earth movements and tsunamis. We know this, and we have prepared accordingly throughout the years. But it's still an earthquake. Yes, Haiti was ill-prepared for an earthquake, and Haiti's economy isn't as stable as Chile's, and it will take them much longer to bounce back from such a disaster. We haven't lost as many lives as Haiti, but a life is still a life. I know news departments have to draw such comparisons so people who are far away can get an idea of what's going on, but when you are right here in the disaster zone and you read those reports you feel a tad insulted. You feel like they're being cold, but the thing is, they have to be. They have to remain neutral. I'm perfectly aware of this, but right now I can't deal with it. I'm trying to avoid international news channels because of this.

Last night at work my friend Claudio and I spent hours making each other laugh. And we laughed maniacally. One minute we were talking about how terrible we felt, and how frustrating it was to not being able to do something to stop all the madness, and the next we were holding our stomachs from laughing so hard. We wanted to cry, but we ended up laughing, and it was cathartic. We needed to laugh to make it through the night. We needed to feel something else than pain.

I got to work at 6:00 PM and didn't leave until 7:00 AM of the next morning. I worked through the night so I could spend Sunday with my family. The news were on the whole time. Every time I was left alone I felt my eyes tearing up, then someone would walk in or I'd go see someone and we'd laugh as if nothing had happened.

I got home and as soon as I stepped into my apartment another aftershock hit. I'd been feeling them through the night, but this one was harder. When I woke up on Sunday afternoon I turned on the news and learned that everything was much worse than the previous day. Curfew in Concepción. Entire cities destroyed; boats in the middle of the street, the aftermath of gigantic waves drowning Talcahuano, a port city. Over 700 lives lost. Thousands of people missing. No water, no power. Panic taking over, people rushing into supermarkets and taking absolutely everything they found, from food to flatscreen TVs. What the fuck? Where the fuck is the army? Why didn't the government call the army? On the front page of the paper it read loud and clear, "ARMY WAITS FOR INSTRUCTIONS". In the earthquake of 1985 the army took over immediately. Yes, it was during the dictatorship, so naturally they were in charge the whole time. But what the present government didn't realize is that the army is better equipped to deal with natural disasters. Chile is not a war-loving country; the military isn't for fighting. They are trained to deal with this. With earthquakes. With extreme situations. They could've rescued so many people, but they will only be active starting Monday at 9:00 AM. They could've done so much in two days. They could've controlled the riots and the escape of prison inmates. They could've looked for survivors. Saturday and Sunday were completely lost to the army, and I'm so fucking pissed about it.

Santiago is pretty much intact in comparison to the rest of the country. The subway is functioning normally, for crying out loud. We faired out much better. "Only" 30 casualties. The power is back, at least on my street. Everything seems back to normal. The aftershocks keep coming. The ground never stops moving, it seems. I'm not even scared of the earth movements. At one point during the earthquake I couldn't stand on my own feet and I had to hold on to the doorframe. I was convinced that the building would collapse, and I didn't panic at all. That's not what I fear, that's not the problem right now, and I'm not traumatized because of it. It wasn't the sirens, either, or the sound of glass breaking, or rumbling, or the building shaking so hard it seemed it was about to snap in two, or the fact that it lasted for about two minutes. That's so not it. I'm devastated because of everything else. How many people are trapped as I write this? How many people are starving, or cold, or hungry, or looking for their loved ones? How many people were taken by the waves? How many people lost everything? Jesus Christ, everyone is in pain, and the air feels heavier because of it.

I can't even write without checking every word twice, just to make sure I'm making sense. My head is all over the place, and I desperately need to see my friends and hold them. I feel like a time bomb. If they don't tell us how we can help soon, I'll explode.


Lainey said...

That sucks that the ground is still unsteady under you, but I am SO glad that you and your family and friends are ok! I'm sorry for the other people who are suffering, but because I am selfish, I'm so grateful that YOU'RE alright and that your city is relatively intact.

I'm sure you're going to have some days that are rougher than others and I hope you know that we're here. You know where to find us and we love you!

replica said...

Take heart, Sofi. There is only so much one person can handle or change alone, and you have to take care of you first before you can make the impact you desire to. There will be plenty of opportunity to help the people around you in need, and when it is possible for you to do that, I know that you will. I bet everything around you is in flux right now...please just do your best to keep your eyes open and yourself safe.

Cindy said...

I have nothing brilliant to say, but I'm sending a million hugs. Things will get better.

mswas said...

Sofi - came here from Pajiba Love to express my love and solidarity for you and your country. I'll do what I can from my end, and I only wish it could be more.

Girl With Curious Hair said...

Sofi, I wish I could reach you just to give you a hug. I send you love and prayers.