On Friday we finished our last day of classes and received our certificates from the school. After checking out of the apartment, the five of us drove to the Santo Domingo, a beautiful beach on the coast. We stopped at a traditional restaurant on the way, where we ate typical Chilean food, and took myriad touristy pictures. We arrived at our host family’s house in Santo Domingo Friday afternoon, which proved to be one of the most beautiful places I have ever been to. Dark navy waves lazily slid onto the black sands of the beach, while just next door a man-made lagoon with crystal turquoise water was nestled into white sands. The view was absolutely spectacular.
We spent the evening having a barbeque with our host family and chatting about cultural differences between Chile and North America, quite the interesting conversation. After taking a nap, we all got ready to go out. Abby, Taylor, our host brother, his friends and I left to go to their favorite discotheque. We discovered that everything starts much later in Chile than in America. The discotheque was very fun, and very different from clubs at home. For one, everyone dances with a lot more respect for their bodies here.
At around 3:30 AM, the lights in the discotheque went out. Because the power had gone out early in the day at our host family’s house, we all assumed that it was normal. A few seconds later, however, the entire floor began to violently shake. With the surrounding darkness making it difficult to see, we thought that everyone in the club was jumping up and down because the music had stopped. When our eyes adjusted, we saw that no one was jumping, and everyone was screaming and running toward the door. I saw the disco ball crash to the floor, and then all of our instincts kicked in. We all made it outside, with a few cuts on our feet from the falling ceiling. From outside, we saw that the walls of the discotheque had begun to separate and the building was splitting open.
Amazingly, we reunited with all of our host brother’s friends and made it to the cars to get home. For some reason we had decided to park outside of the parking lot on the street before we had gone inside, a decision that proved crucially important now that the parking lot was a mess of people trying to get home. We made it back to the house rather quickly and saw that our entire host family and our friends, Liz, and Sarah were outside and completely fine. The house had a few broken objects, a lot of broken glass, a fallen chimney and some cracks, but it had survived very well.
Once everyone had made it back to the house (19 people total), we dragged mattresses and blankets outside and tried to sleep on the sidewalk in front of the house. More tremors shook the Earth throughout the night, but none compared to the first major one which was recorded as an 8.0 in Santo Domingo. When the sun rose, we assessed the damage to the house, cleaned up as best we could, and made plans to get back to Santiago to assess the damage there. There was no power, water, or gas in Santo Domingo, so there was no point in staying. We were also worried about a tsunami and further aftershocks. When we finally got a cell signal at around 7 am, we all emailed our parents from our friend’s blackberry to let them know we were fine.
The ride back to Santiago took over 4 hours, much longer than the ride there. We had to go a different way because the main bridge back to the city had been closed because of damage. There was a lot of damage along the road, mostly large cracks in the highway which proved a little scary to pass over. When we finally made it back, we found that our host family’s residence was almost completely intact. A few things had fallen over and part of the roof had fallen off but for the most part of the house was in great shape.
There were more tremors through the night, including one large one that had us all jumping out of bed to run outside until we were assured that it was safe to keep sleeping. In the morning, we went over to our host family’s grandmother’s house to help her clean up her apartment. She had not fared so well on the sixth floor. The windows surrounding her apartment had all shattered, most of the bookshelves had collapsed, there were broken possessions everywhere, the doors were falling off their hinges, and the ceiling and walls were cracking apart in many places. It was terrible to see but with everyone helping the clean up was not too bad.
Our entire group wanted to thank the Westtown community and all of our friends and family for their concern. I, for one, was completely shocked that so many people cared. We appreciate all of your prayers and hope that they will continue for those who are still suffering because of the Earthquake. While we are perfectly fine, many, many people were not as lucky. We were very fortunate to have been so well cared for by such wonderful people. The full implications of how this experience has and will impact my life are not clear to me yet, we are all still reflecting. I’m just happy that the sun is still shining, there are still no clouds, and my friends are all okay.