Terremoto in Chile

SU junior Sam Disston's Saturday morning began with the terrifying experience of Chile's 8.8-magnitude earthquake.

NOTE: Nineteen Syracuse University students currently live and study in Chile with SU Abroad.  All safely survived Saturday's 8.8 magnitude earthquake. The death toll has reached at least 700, and experts approximate that 2 million have been displaced by the damage.

Junior psychology and spanish major, Sam Disston is spending the semester in Santiago, Chile, and was awoken by the quake. Here is his personal reaction.

Photo: Sam Disston
Disston and his host family live on the sixth floor of a Ñuñoa area apartment building in Santiago. Saturday's earthquake scattered and shattered many of the family's belongings.

After two and a half weeks of getting little sleep and traveling around South America, I finally lay down for a nice restful night-- or so I thought. 

I awoke to what sounded like someone pounding on my wall but soon realized my bed was shaking as well.  As I tried to catch my bearings, my family threw the door open and it was very apparent what was happening.  My feet were asleep and that doesn't make walking in an 8.8 earthquake any easier.  After making it to the door jamb and watching my computer get thrown to the floor, my adrenaline had kicked in enough to know this wasn't one of those "temblores" I had been warned about, this was a "terremoto."  Those words are what they sound like.

I braced myself in the door jamb as I had been taught and waited it out.  People were screaming, kids were crying and everything was crashing: dishes, pictures, furniture.  If you have seen an earthquake scene in a movie, it's pretty well representative.  I was on the sixth floor of the building, which was the most nerve-wracking part, but since I was concentrating mostly on standing, I gave it little thought.  When it was over, a few minutes it seemed, I put on my jeans and an undershirt and sneakers.  I opened my computer to try to update Twitter (yes I'm serious. It was the easiest way to disseminate to all my networks that I was ok).  For obvious reasons (earthquake), the internet didn't work.  I grabbed my camera, my knife, my wallet, and my headlamp, and quickly exited the building.

The hallways were covered with dust like a movie scene, and old women were screaming as they attempted the staircase.  OH BY THE WAY, THIS WAS ALL HAPPENING IN SPANISH.  We made it outside where people had begun to congregate.  We moved toward the street-- moving the distance of the height of the building for obvious reasons-- and then we waited.  Within minutes I saw police cars on the streets.  The next thing I saw, interestingly enough, was a train on the raised tracks, checking for damage and trying to get infrastructure up and running.  Within minutes they had already started the recovery process.  More and more cars began to fill the streets and sometimes the police would drive purposely slow to keep drivers at a reasonable speed.

"Los bomberos," or firefighters, are all volunteers here, which is why I saw one frantically trying to hitch a ride.  This person was actually the most panicked person I saw during the whole event. He wanted to help but couldn't get anywhere.

A version of Disston's reaction piece originally appeared Feb. 27 on his personal blog, the day the earthquake occurred.

Interesting Account

Thanks for posting your account of the earthquake. As someone who studied abroad in Chile in Fall 2008 and lived with a family in Ñuñoa, I was especially interested in reading your take on the event. Best of luck with the rest of your semester in Chile. Ever since the day I left, I've missed my life in Ñuñoa.


The perspective of one who not accustomed to earthquakes is very interesting.

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