When the earth began to buckle, Alberto Rozas instinctively grabbed his seven-year-old daughter and waited in the bathroom for it to be over.
He knows now that he can bless his stars for what happened next. The newly-built tower fell like an oak in a gale, plunging father and daughter an equivalent of 13 stories to the ground.
“The earthquake and the fall were one single, horrible thing,” recalled Rozas about the moment the Rio Alta tower was toppled and the seconds when he and his daughter, Fernanda, were falling through space. “I held on to her and she never let me go.”
When the 70-unit building stopped its plunge, and floors had become vertical walls and Rozas saw moonlight through a shattered window. He and his daughter were able to crawl to safety with little more than scratches.
The pair are among 25 people to have emerged from the building alive. But the rescue effort continued at the tower block in the city of Concepcion, with emergency workers racing against time to try to find as many as 50 residents still thought to be inside.
Where large triangular holes had been cut into the building's side, emergency crews listened for signs of life and, where possible, crawled inside to try to probe the crushed and homes. A voice was heard in the morning from number 602. On another floor a dog barked. Six Britons had been reported missing in the resort of Pichilemu, but Scottish couple Kirsty Duff and Dave Sandercock have now turned up safe and well, as too have Andre Lanyon and Laura Hapgood. The Foreign Office said it was working to establish the whereabouts of the remaining missing Britons.
While the tower in Concepcion and the plight of those inside kept the nation in its thrall a full two days after the 8.8 magnitude quake — the fifth largest ever recorded — a wider and increasingly grim picture of the human and physical loss was emerging across a swathe of coastal Chile to the south of the capital, Santiago. The National Emergency Office said the official death toll had risen to 723, with 19 missing, but warned it could go higher still.
The authorities were getting a fuller understanding of the destruction caused by the tsunami waves that roared into coastal towns and villages about 30 minutes after the quake itself, tearing homes from their foundations and leaving boats stranded inland in streets and town squares.
Among communities swamped by the suddenly surging sea were Dichato, Iloca and Llo-Lleo. While rescue efforts remained a top priority in Concepcion, the government was also moving quickly last night to quell looting and civil unrest there.
After escaping the building, Mr Rozas took his daughter to his mother's house and then returned to help rescue workers understand the geography of the apartments. He, like others yesterday, wondered why a building that opened only last June could have fallen so quickly.