Belfast Telegraph

Friday 6 March 2015

My family was caught in Chile quake nightmare

Police officers search for victims after an earthquake in Curanipe, some 389 km., about 241 miles, southwest Santiago, Sunday, Feb. 28
Police officers search for victims after an earthquake in Curanipe, some 389 km., about 241 miles, southwest Santiago, Sunday, Feb. 28
Bruno Sandoval, right, and Aileen Marquez look at a damaged vehicle after an earthquake in Pelluhue, some 322 kms, about 200 miles, southwest of Santiago, Sunday, Feb. 28, 2010. A 8.8-magnitude earthquake hit Chile early Saturday.
A man holds up a Chilean flag in a flooded area after an earthquake in Pelluhue, some 322 kms, about 200 miles, southwest of Santiago
People stand in front of a damaged house after an earthquake in Pelluhue, some 322 kms, about 200 miles, southwest of Santiago, Sunday, Feb. 28, 2010. A 8.8-magnitude earthquake hit Chile early Saturday.
Police officers carry the body of an earthquake victim in Curanipe, Chile, some 241 miles (389 km.) southwest of Santiago Sunday, Feb. 28, 2010. An 8.8-magnitude earthquake struck central Chile early Saturday. (AP Photo/Roberto Candia)
People survey a destroyed house after an earthquake in Curanipe, some 389 km., about 241 miles, southwest Santiago, Sunday, Feb. 28, 2010. A 8.8-magnitude earthquake struck central Chile early Saturday. (AP Photo/Roberto Candia)
Residents look at a collapsed building in Concepcion, Chile, Saturday Feb. 27, 2010 after an 8.8-magnitude struck central Chile. The epicenter was 70 miles (115 kilometers) from Concepcion, Chile's second-largest city. (AP Photo)
People walk past a collapsed building in Concepcion, Chile, Sunday, Feb. 28, 2010. A 8.8-magnitude earthquake hit Chile early Saturday. (AP Photo/ Natacha Pisarenko)
Rosa Neira, 36, stands in front of a damaged house after an earthquake in Pelluhue, some 322 kms, about 200 miles, southwest of Santiago, Sunday, Feb. 28, 2010. A 8.8-magnitude earthquake hit Chile early Saturday. (AP Photo/Roberto Candia)
Cars are seen overturned and stuck at a collapsed road in northern Santiago Saturday Feb. 27, 2010. An 8.8-magnitude earthquake struck central Chile early Saturday. The quake hit 200 miles (325 kilometers) southwest of the capital and the epicenter was just 70 miles (115 kilometers) from Concepcion, Chile's second-largest city
Police officers search for victims after an earthquake at the shore of Pelluhue, some 322 kms, about 200 miles, southwest of Santiago, Sunday, Feb. 28, 2010. A 8.8-magnitude earthquake hit Chile early Saturday.
A man stands in front of a damaged house after an earthquake in Pelluhue, some 322 kms, about 200 miles, southwest of Santiago, Sunday, Feb. 28, 2010. A 8.8-magnitude earthquake hit Chile early Saturday. (AP Photo/Roberto Candia)
A flooded area is seen after an earthquake in Pelluhue, some 322 kms, about 200 miles, southwest of Santiago, Sunday, Feb. 28, 2010. A 8.8-magnitude earthquake hit Chile early Saturday. (AP Photo/Roberto Candia)
A dog sits in front damaged buildings after an earthquake in Pelluhue, some 322 kms, about 200 miles, southwest of Santiago, Sunday, Feb. 28, 2010. A 8.8-magnitude earthquake hit Chile early Saturday. (AP Photo/Roberto Candia)
People stand next to a damaged bridge after an earthquake in Pelluhue, some 322 kms, about 200 miles, southwest of Santiago, Sunday, Feb. 28, 2010. A 8.8-magnitude earthquake hit Chile early Saturday. (AP Photo/Roberto Candia)
Soldiers sit in a vehicle in front of a destroyed building in Concepcion, Sunday, Feb. 28, 2010.
People walk along the shore after an earthquake in Pelluhue, some 322 kms, about 200 miles, southwest of Santiago
People walk aside a destroyed road in Talcahuano, Chile, Sunday, Feb. 28, 2010, following a devastating earthquake that struck Chile early Saturday Feb. 27. (AP Photo/ Aliosha Marquez)
People fill containers with drinking water in Talcahuano, southern Chile, Sunday, Feb. 28, 2010. An 8.8-magnitude earthquake struck central Chile early Saturday. (AP Photo/ Aliosha Marquez)
Soldiers guard the streets of Talcahuano, southern Chile, Sunday, Feb. 28, 2010. An 8.8-magnitude earthquake struck central Chile early Saturday. (AP Photo/ Aliosha Marquez)
People carry supplies along a street in Talcahuano, southern Chile, Sunday, Feb. 28, 2010. An 8.8-magnitude earthquake struck central Chile early Saturday. (AP Photo/ Aliosha Marquez)
Rescue workers recover the body of an earthquake victim from a collapsed building in Concepcion, Chile, Sunday, Feb. 28, 2010.
A man carries goods during looting in a supermarket in Concepcion, Chile, Sunday, Feb. 28, 2010. A 8.8-magnitude earthquake hit Chile early Saturday
People walk in a damaged area of Curanipe, some 389 km., about 241 miles, southwest Santiago, Sunday, Feb. 28, 2010. A magnitude-8.8 earthquake struck central Chile early Saturday. (AP Photo/Roberto Candia)
Police officers recover the body of a woman buried in the mud after drawing under sea water during the earthquake is seen in Curanipe, Chile, some 241 miles, 389 km, southwest of Santiago Sunday, Feb. 28, 2010. An 8.8-magnitude earthquake struck central Chile early Saturday. (AP Photo/Roberto Candia)
People carry supplies as they walk through the streets of Talcahuano, Chile, Sunday, Feb. 28, 2010. A devastating earthquake struck Chile early Saturday, Feb. 27, knocking out power and closing most businesses. (AP Photo/ Aliosha Marquez)
A man walks past a destroyed road in Talcahuano, Chile, Sunday, Feb. 28, 2010, following a devastating earthquake that struck Chile early Saturday, Feb. 27. (AP Photo/ Aliosha Marquez)
A vehicle sits on the rubble of a house after an earthquake in Curanipe, some 389 km., about 241 miles, southwest Santiago, Sunday, Feb. 28, 2010. A 8.8-magnitude earthquake hit Chile early Saturday. (AP Photo/Roberto Candia)
Members of a family, with sacks containing food, take a rest in front of a collapsed building in Concepcion, Chile, Sunday, Feb. 28, 2010. A 8.8-magnitude earthquake hit Chile early Saturday. (AP Photo/ Natacha Pisarenko)
People stand next to a damaged bridge after an earthquake in Pelluhue, some 322 kms, about 200 miles, southwest of Santiago, Sunday, Feb. 28, 2010. A 8.8-magnitude earthquake hit Chile early Saturday. (AP Photo/Roberto Candia)
Residents search for belongings to recover from destroyed houses by the sea in Pelluhue, Chile, some 206 miles (332 kilometers) southwest Santiago, Sunday, Feb. 28, 2010. An 8.8-magnitude earthquake struck central Chile early Saturday. (AP Photo/Roberto Candia)

Northern Ireland man Patrick Nixon has lived and worked as a journalist in Chile since 1999. Here, the former Belfast resident described the horrifying experience of one of the biggest earthquakes ever recorded

Having lived and worked as a journalist in Santiago, Chile since 1999, I’m well aware of what an earth tremor feels like. They happen so frequently that people often do not comment on them unless it is a particularly strong one. There are different types of tremor: ones that sway from side to side, others that feel like a wave and yet others that are more like a thud.

The earthquake that measured 8.8 on the Richter scale in the early hours of Saturday morning felt like a combination of all of the above.

This time it was different; there was strong shaking from the very beginning with little build up, accompanied by a rumbling sound from the depths of the earth that I’d never heard before.

Dazed but immediately aware this was a serious tremor, my wife and I jumped up, grabbed our children from the next room and positioned ourselves under a door arch, which is supposedly one of the strongest parts of the house structure.

Crockery and glasses tumbled out of the cupboards in the kitchen and smashed on the floor, books toppled off the shelves in the playroom, the fridge shifted forward and a lightbulb exploded, briefly illuminating the kitchen before plunging us again into darkness.

As we huddled tightly together, nobody uttered a sound, we were just waiting to see how long it would last and wondering if a wall or something else would collapse. This was a real earthquake.

When it ended there was no noise outside, just silence, like a state of shock.

We lit candles, all electricity was down. But phone lines were working and we checked on family. My father Larry, a former Belfast Telegraph journalist and government press officer, and his partner — both from Newtownards — were over on holiday and were sleeping in a back room. They were OK. My dad was grinning with excitement, Ann was white with shock, not believing what had happened.

Only in the light of day and by remaining glued to the TV on Saturday did the full extent of the |disaster become apparent — buildings collapsed, coastal towns swamped, bridges collapsed and cars upturned, people crying for lost loved ones. We’d got off lightly with a few broken plates.

In Santiago, 200 miles north of the epicenter of the earthquake, much of the city appeared unscathed, just the streets unusually empty.

Supermarkets were closed but there long queues at gasoline stations. Tremors have continued to keep everyone on edge.

The reported death toll went from an initial 70 to 708 within 24 hours. The country is in a state of emergency, people are glued to 24-hour media coverage.

The government is acting |swiftly and is much better prepared to deal with this than the Haitian government was.

But, sadly, the greedy side of humanity has emerged. Looting has begun, some people just grabbing milk and bread, others carrying plasma TVs.

The army has been sent in and a curfew declared from 9pm to 6am. .

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