Weeks after the biggest earthquake that has hit Chile in 50 years (8.8 on the Richter scale—and the fifth strongest in recorded history) the aftershocks are still being felt strongly in Santiago and Central Chile. The strongest one yet was actually another earthquake (7.2 on the Richter scale) on the day of the inauguration of Chile’s new president, Sebastian Piñera. It sent people running from their houses and buildings. All of Central Chile was nervous and alarmed.
The February 27th quake brought down well over 100,000 adobe houses as if they were children’s toys. In Concepcion and other cities, modern buildings collapsed. The earth moved for almost three minutes, an eternity for anyone who has experienced an earthquake. Those who were able to run to their gardens, or were outside at the time, relate that the ground and the roads rose in waves. One traveler described it this way, “We were riding in a regional bus when the earthquake struck. All of a sudden it seemed like we were navigating in the ocean fighting the surf.”
Soon after, a tsunami struck 30 cities, towns, and fishing villages in the central and southern part of the country, leaving hundreds of victims. Witnesses say that the waters sounded like the “roar of a hundred lions.”
The images repeatedly shown on television were horrific. The devastation was overwhelming. We cried for those affected. People needed help urgently in every sense of the word—physically, emotionally, and spiritually.
Thanks to the help of many donors, teams of Family volunteers gathered basic food supplies, water, blankets, toilet paper, clothing, and children’s books and toys. We also collected books and publications of comfort, encouragement, and faith for the adults of the affected areas. We made trips to Paine, Boyeruca, Constitución, and Cauquenes. Following is an account of our trip to Constitución, a costal town near the epicenter:
It took twice as long as it normally would to reach our destination due to the damaged roads; there were fallen bridges, gaping cracks in the road, and weakened structures. Close to the city, groups of people ran to the road to beg us for food and basic necessities. All commerce had halted and there were shortages everywhere.
We were impressed by the solidarity of the Chilean people; they had come out in full force to help the needy. The highway was full of trucks and cars carrying help with flags waving and signs that read, “Fuerza Chile!” (Stand strong, Chile!) In this country that has yet to overcome its political differences, as the new president aptly expressed in his inaugural speech, “Nature has once again reminded us of the importance of our national unity—we are all survivors of this tragedy.”
We found the central part of Constitución, a city of approximately 50,000, totally devastated. Never had we seen such destruction. It was shocking. We had to use surgical masks as protection from the odor of rotting fish, and from the sicknesses that floated in the air.
Our team had brought rice, beans, noodles, cooking oil, salt, canned fish, bleach, toilet paper, blankets, cookies, and 100 coloring books along with 100 boxes of color pencils, 120 children’s books, and motivational books and magazines for adults.
We left part of the provisions we’d brought in a distribution center, and the rest we took to a section of the city that help had not yet reached. Close to a hospital we made bags of basic provisions—rice, noodles, oil, fish, etc., adding also an Activated magazine with articles on faith and hope. In every part of the city where we distributed supplies we were thanked with smiles and tears.
Soon after we arrived we realized that the emotional and spiritual needs were as urgent as the physical. We stopped to listen to the stories and miracles of rescue. The majority of those we met had lost their homes, belongings, livelihoods, or a friend or loved one. But everyone gave thanks to God for having cared for them in spite of this calamity. We were taken aback by the fortitude of the Chilean people. One man observed that we often complain about the destructive forces of nature, and yet we do not ask ourselves how much damage we ourselves are doing to the earth and to our fellowman. With this tragedy we are learning humility. We reassured each person we met that the Lord loves them and is by their side. Wherever we could, we applied the healing balm of prayer and hope.
Through the news, we heard that one of the greater needs was to entertain the children who are still traumatized by the tragedy and their subsequent displacement. With that in mind we always had on hand toys, coloring books, colored pencils, and children’s books. We gave a package of these materials to every family and child that crossed our paths.
We really appreciate your prayers for the people of Chile. We are committing ourselves to doing all we can to assist with the immediate needs, as well as long-term assistance. There is definitely a lot to do. We feel so small against so great a need. Please pray that the Lord multiplies our efforts and that we can be effective in our aid to the displaced.
Originally Published in 2010.