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The Mac Weekly

The Student News Site of Macalester College

The Mac Weekly

The Student News Site of Macalester College

The Mac Weekly

Chile earthquake felt at Mac

By Peter Wright

Catherine Reagan ’11 woke-up at 3 a.m. Saturday, Feb. 27 to a rumbling sound as her bed started swaying side-to-side. When the sun came up she realized that she had felt one of the strongest earthquakes in recorded history, one of several Macalester students connected to the disaster.”We didn’t realize that entire towns would be wiped out, or that we would be without electricity for several days,” Reagan said in an e-mail.

Reagan had arrived in Santiago, Chile three days before to spend time with her cousin before going to Valparaíso for her study abroad program.

She is one of five Macalester students slated to attend programs in Chile this semester, study abroad coordinator Paul Nelson said. Two students other than Reagan had arrived in Chile when the quake hit. Nelson said they were further away from the region affected by the crisis.

The 8.8 magnitude earthquake was centered south of Santiago in the Maule region, near the city of Constitución.

Abby Gutmann-Gonzalez ’11 grew up in the Maule Region, and her parents still live there. Gonzalez said she woke-up to a phone call Saturday morning from her grandparents in Ohio saying an earthquake had occurred in Chile. She spent the rest of the day checking her Facebook and e-mail, waiting for word from Maule.

“The day was pretty awful trying to get in touch with my parents,” she said.

Gutmann-Gonzalez said her parents live in a rural mountainous area. While landline phones were still functional, the quake had knocked out her parents’ cell phone service and Internet access, the only two ways for them to communicate with her.

On Saturday night, after a full day of waiting, she finally received an e-mail from her cousin saying her parents had been in contact and they were alright.

“Not knowing was the worst part,” Gutmann-Gonzalez said.

Since then, she has also heard from all of her friends, including some who lived closer to the coast, the areas where most of the nearly 800 fatalities occurred, largely a result of the tsunami that followed the quake.

“The tsunami wiped-out entire towns,” she said.

In Santiago, near the edge of the significant damage from the earthquake, Reagan said the most visible change following the first earthquake was an evacuation to the streets.

“People were worried about another quake, so they were just driving around packing their entire family into their car,” Reagan said.

She only began to understand the extent of the disaster as information from the south began trickling in. But Santiago has not completely escaped the effects of the quake.

Electricity was out and was not restored until late Tuesday, Reagan said.

“On Saturday afternoon, hours after the quake, we looked out westward and even though it was a relatively clear day for usually smoggy Santiago, it was all gray from the dust of buildings,” she said.

While the apartment where she was staying on the third floor of a building was undamaged, items were thrown to the floor in an apartment five floors above her. Reagan said the extent of damage seemed to depend on the construction of the buildings.

“The church that is the namesake of Providencia, around the corner from my cousin’s house, is closed because the steeple is in ruins,” Reagan said.

She said the grocery store near her cousin’s home was closed for several days after its ceiling collapsed. Her cousin’s maid’s house across town, Reagan said, was undamaged, although all of her dishes shattered and some of the older adobe houses in the city “just fell apart.”

“Today we went to buy more plates and glasses so she could take home the old ones, and everyone in the store was buying more plates and glasses,” Reagan said.

Reagan said she is waiting now to hear plans from her study abroad program, IFSA Butler-Valparaíso. Orientation was expected to start March 3, but that has been indefinitely extended, as many students have been unable to arrive at the damaged Santiago airport.

“University students were called to Valparaíso to help with relief efforts, but because I’m kind of waiting for my program to figure out their stuff, I can’t really go anywhere,” Reagan said.

Study abroad coordinator Nelson said most of the programs in Chile may be a little delayed in starting, but nothing has been canceled. All of the programs with Mac students have been staying in contact with the school through multiple e-mails every day, he said.

“The programs have been very good about communicating,” Nelson said.

Much of Macalester’s emergency plan for students studying abroad focuses on communication. Nelson said that since all the Mac students in Chile are safe, though, the earthquake hasn’t triggered the full plan.

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