Saturday, February 27, 2010

The Earthquake

At 3:34 AM on February 27 the Earth started shaking. This is nothing new in Chile, and I’ve learned to coexist with earth movements. But this time it was different. It was longer than the usual 30 seconds, and it kept getting stronger and stronger. I turned on the lights and saw my things moving. The light went off, then on, then off again, this time for good. I only got out of bed once I heard stuff falling around me. I live in the tenth floor, so I knew going outside to the street wasn’t an option. Standing under a doorframe seemed pretty useless but I did it anyway. I could feel the building swaying, and at one point I thought, with striking calm, “the building is going to collapse”. There were glasses breaking everywhere, books cascading to the floor, picture frames falling one after the other, and countless loud thumps.

My father wasn’t home. Hilda, our maid, came to my room absolutely petrified. She’s afraid of earthquakes. I calmed her down as best as I could and told her to get dressed. I knew that if we stayed in the apartment, surrounded by the mess the earthquake left, she was going to get more nervous and more difficult to handle. I quickly got dressed and went to my dad’s room because I knew he kept a flashlight in his dresser. Once I had it in my hands I picked up his TV and put it back on the table. I went into my father’s den and stood speechless for a few seconds. It was the worst room in the apartment. Two of his three bookshelves were down. Hundreds of books and DVDs were all over the carpet. His pictures with his friends and the Pope were broken. I knew it was hopeless to take care of that at that very moment, so I went back to my room. I grabbed my backpack with my computer, my purse with my wallet inside, and my cell phone and Hilda and I took the stairs.

As soon as we got to the lobby we ran into the doorman. The look on his face paralyzed me for a second. “Is there anyone in the elevators?” I asked. Nobody was, and I was relieved. I stepped outside into the cold night, the sound of emergency generators filling my ears. I tried to call my mom, remembering she’s also terrified of earthquakes, but there was no connection. I used the building phone to call her home but nobody answered. There was absolutely no way of communicating with other people. No phones, no cell phones, no electricity, and no Internet.

I waited for Hilda to finish her cigarette and we went back upstairs. I told her to go to bed and try to sleep; that she could call her family the next day when the lines weren’t collapsed. I had to go to work in the morning, so I went to bed, too. I slept like a baby.

The next morning I started calling everyone. Family, friends, my friends’ family members. They were all fine, thank goodness. One of my friends was in a club, dancing, when the earthquake started. Another one was in the street. Another one was in a gas station in the middle of nowhere, trying to get some sleep. A friend of mine who lives next door to the Bellas Artes museum, a beautiful building, told me that part of the building collapsed. I have two friends who live in Concepcion, near the epicenter of the earthquake, and I still can’t reach them. The air is smoky because of the fires and the dirt that the quake lifted off the mountains. There have been aftershocks all day. One was while I was in the shower. Another one while I sat in my terrace. Another one when I was having something to eat. Another one while I was peeing. Another one while I was going down the stairs to get my bike and go to work. It’ll be like this for a week or so.

Almost exactly 25 years ago, on March 3rd of 1985, a 7.4 earthquake shook Chile. I was in my mother’s womb, about to be born. I’m almost 25 years old now, and I have experienced an 8.5 earthquake in the tenth floor of a building. It hasn't exactly sunk in yet. Sometimes when there's no one around I feel like crying. It's so overwhelming. I rode my bike to work (I'm at the office right now, that's why I have power and Internet) and saw glass everywhere. This is so odd.

I want to thank all of you for your concern and good wishes. I couldn't get to a computer soon enough to let you all know I'm perfectly well. Shaken, but well.