After an 8.8 magnitude earthquake shook Chile at 3:34 a.m. local time Saturday, Anne Meriwether (COL ’11) was thankful to be in the safety of her bed and eager to let her family know she was out of harm’s way.
Meriwether, one of two Georgetown students studying abroad in the capital city of Santiago, was sleeping at the time of the earthquake and did not immediately realize the extent of the damage.
“As a safety precaution [the Chilean government] cut the power, so I didn’t have Internet, which is my primary way of communicating with my family,” Meriwether said. “I was afraid they’d hear the news before hearing from me and be really worried. I also didn’t have cell service for a while and couldn’t get in touch with anyone around here.”
Meriwether said she considers herself lucky that her apartment building did not sustain much damage and maintained access to water and power throughout most of the day.
“A lot of people I’ve talked to in the city and around it are without power and water, so I feel pretty lucky [and am] also thankful that my friends are all safe.”
Chilean student Nicole Jullian (SFS ’12), who expects to arrive in Santiago today to see her family, commented on the debilitating effects of the earthquake on her home country.
“The central regions of the country suffered a lot of infrastructural damage. Several buildings in Maipú – poorer area of the capital – collapsed, the airport has received considerable damage, and a couple bridges and highways are in very bad shape,” Jullian said in an e-mail. “Fortunately, Chile overall is used to having tremors and earthquakes, so the majority of buildings are designed to withstand seismic shifts, but then again 8.8 is really strong.”
Jullian was unable to contact her family for eight hours in the earthquake’s aftermath because of the power outages.
“People that lived closer to the epicenter are really traumatized by the whole event and many of them lost their homes,” Jullian said.
At press time, at least 723 people have been confirmed dead following the earthquake, according to CNN.
The two Georgetown students participating in the Council on International Educational Exchange study abroad program in Santiago, including Meriwether, were told to stay put and observe safety precautions when the earthquake struck.
According to Assistant Director in the Office of International Programs Magdalena Chica-Garzon, who advises for study abroad programs in Latin America, students studying in Santiago were nearing the end of orientation and were scheduled to start classes this or next week, though classes have now been delayed.
“CIEE students, including those from [Georgetown], are accounted for and are safe with their host families,” Chica-Garzon said.
Students participating in the CIEE program in Valparaíso were scheduled to arrive on-site yesterday; however, the start of the program has now been delayed until ground conditions are fully assessed and Universidad Católica de Valparaíso adjusts its academic calendar.
Chile has sought to recover amid aftershocks, and President Michelle Bachelet has said the country is in a “state of catastrophe.” The Chilean government first asked for foreign aid on Monday, according to The New York Times.
“Obviously the earthquake will have an impact on the economy,” said Barbara Kotschwar, adjunct professor of Latin American Studies. “I think it is early yet to be able to assess the impact on the infrastructure and the populace – but not nearly so much as, for example, in Haiti, as Chile has done much better in terms of meeting and enforcing building codes and planning for such a disaster. The fact that the quake hit so close to two major metropolitan areas increases the impact on the economy.”
Although restoration efforts will pose a challenge for the nation, Kotschwar noted that the Chilean government is very organized in its reponse and that it has established reliable bonds with other countries that will prove assets in the process.
“The professionals in charge of Chile’s trade promotion strategy work very closely with Chilean business and diplomats and forge close links and establish ties of trust with the local community,” Kotschwar said. “I am sure that this will help them garner targeted assistance of the type that could best help them in this case. I would look for some very well-organized initiatives very soon.”
An earthquake of this magnitude is capable of producing deadly tsunamis, such as the one that followed the Indian Ocean earthquake in 2004. This 8.8 magnitude quake, the epicenter of which was near the city of Concepción, south of Santiago, triggered tsunami warnings throughout Latin America and as far away as Hawaii, Japan, Australia and Russia.
Sierra Jansen (NHS ’11), originally from Maui, feared for the safety of her family in Hawaii.
“While my immediate family is not on-island, [Saturday] was a bit nerve-wracking,” Jansen said. “My family’s house is upcountry, thus our house was safe. However, many of my friends live near the beach and if anything had happened, everything would have been destroyed. I was just hoping that they were able to get to higher ground, especially those who lived in rural areas.”
Jansen said people prepared for the potential tsunami by stocking up on groceries and gasoline. “The tsunami sirens were going off and making everyone acutely aware of what they were waiting for. People who lived upcountry took in those who lived in the flood zone,” she said.
Due to the severity of the quake, CIEE, which operates the study abroad programs offered to Georgetown students, was unable to comment on the current state of its programs.”