Sunday, February 28, 2010

Quake, Day 2

I finally got to sleep last night after being kept up by a series of aftershocks, but I woke up with a start this morning, a racing heart and a train of thought that went something like this: "Oh! What? Oh. No. It really happened." It's somehow the same feeling I had after September 11 where I just kept wishing we could turn back time and un-do it. Except who can you blame here? There is no one to blame.

We had the daunting task of getting to the farm this morning, so we started very early. It's the end of February, obviously, which means it's still summer here, but a very unusual dense fog had rolled in and covered the entire central valley. The visibility was no more than 1/4 mile in most spots and it even rained a bit (this is seriously unheard of here in February). So because of that we could not see the extent of damage in much of the city.

About a half-hour outside the city we encountered a closure in the highway and we had to take side roads for several dozen kms until we could get back onto the highway. We determined that the bridge was out over one of the rivers (possibly the Maipo?). Further along we found a large crack in the pavement and many rock slides onto the road. Other than the one diversion, though, we got to the farm without too much trouble. Several bridges seemed to have lifted in the quake, but were intact, and the dirt road going to the house had large cracks in it and was covered in rocks.

Coming up to the house, things didn't look too bad, but as soon as we got out of the car we were met by several farm employees who ushered us up to the house quickly. It was, in short, devastating. The corner of the house has a large hole in it. Pieces of the chimney have come down. The interior walls broke and started to crumble from the top. All of the closets collapsed. Somehow the mirror on my dresser was ok and the wine glasses survived. Nature is very strange.

Right now I have only been able to upload 3 pictures because our internet is still down. They can be found on Facebook.

I never liked the house at the farm but never in my WILDEST dreams did I think I would see its destruction, and certainly not now. On a logical level I am very worried because now we have nowhere to stay at the farm which makes thing extremely complicated. On an emotional level, I am crushed by all of the work I had put into making that house feel more like home for us, and by the loss of such an iconic family memory for Nick and his family. I imagined us showing that house to our children, to our family, to our friends and explaining how it came about and showing the treasures in it like antique books, awards for the sheep and photographs. I don't know what will happen to the house itself but it will be condemned and eventually it will probably have to be destroyed.

We spent the morning salvaging what we could from the house. Because there were so many plates in the first place, many survived, along with artwork, linens, even unopened food. The furniture is still in the house because we have nowhere else to put it (including our brand new king-sized bed!!! I am so mad about that. It's ok, but we have nowhere to take it). Aftershocks are still hitting every few minutes and several were on the larger side, so in the midst of trying to save things, suddenly the earth would rumble and one or more people would yell "Out! out! out!" and we'd scramble into the front. No injuries, thankfully, although I keep twisting my knee trying to move too quickly.

With no house, water, electricity or food, we were left with only the option of going back to Santiago. It was an exhausting drive, but this time the highway was open through to the city. We discovered that the bridge that was apparently out was not seriously damaged but the roadway was rippled. We saw a few houses along the road that had collapsed, and many people camping outside.

I came home and made eggs and potatoes because that's all I have in the house and we hadn't eaten all day. The problem now is that the city seems to be running out of food. There are hardly any grocery stores open and those that are are out of most things. Luckily we have enough food to sustain us for several days, but it won't be pretty (potatoes, rice, oatmeal... and the pounds and pounds of celery and carrots I have). Nick's grandma's house has a freezer full of lamb, too, thankfully. We will be ok.

Now I am thinking about going to bed but it's so hard. It sounds childish but I am in some way afraid of the dark and my bedroom now. I only want to be out in the living room with the DVR playing something on the television to distract me. I dread waking up tomorrow again having forgotten for a split second that this happened and then having the realization that it really did...

Importantly, I really want to thank you all SO MUCH for your good wishes and thoughts and prayers. We really need them now. Our task in coming down here to take over the farm was daunting when we began but we have now taken many many steps backwards. My light at the end of the tunnel is the thought that we will be in the US in July and can see you all again. We miss everyone intensely right now. Please stay in touch with us.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

The Quake, day 1

At 3:34 this morning, Nick and I were asleep in bed when we awoke to a slight swaying of the building. We immediately thought it was just a normal tremor, but when it didn't stop, we became worried and got out of bed. We started to walk out to our living room to make sure the big things were ok (we did not realize the magnitude of it yet) and at some point it became clear that we wouldn't be able to walk any farther. It was probably the most terrifying moment in my life. For 90 seconds, our 10th-floor apartment swayed back and forth , the ground emitted a loud, pulsating noise, and glass and dishes fell throughout our apartment, shattering immediately. The electricity flickered on and off and eventually faltered completely. I was screaming for it to stop, because it felt like it never would. 90 seconds is an amazing amount of time. An Armageddon-style movie in a theatre with the volume turned all of the way up would not do justice to the terror at that moment. I will never forget it.

When the shaking stopped, we were left in our apartment without lights and with broken glass covering most of the floor. We had to make do with the light from our cell phones and one small headlamp. I lit one candle but had to keep it with me in case of another strong quake to prevent a fire. We heard helicopters flying all over above and sirens in the street below. We couldn't find the cats, but there was so much stuff everywhere that they could have been anywhere. Eventually they turned up-- Mister crouched under the bed and Shady inexplicably standing on top of the TV stand, behind the screen.

Aftershocks continued to rattle us while we were in the dark, but we stabilized everything we could to prevent more damage. We tied the cupboards in the kitchen shut and laid the computer on its side so it wouldn't fall. Somehow both the flat-screen TV and the kitchen cart with pottery special to us were ok-- both were on wheels and just sauntered themselves across the livingroom, meeting in the middle. We took many photos of the damage and began to clean up, since we had nothing else we could do at that time. I will post pictures of the damage as soon as I have a stable internet connection (right now I am working off a slow cell signal).

Unfortunately, we had two friends on an airplane at that exact moment coming to visit with us. We had a week of fun and relaxation planned after several months of non-stop work. I tried calling the airline when we reached Nick's grandmother's house and a working phone line, but no one seemed to know anything. We called family members in the US to inform them of the quake and let them know we were ok, and also to enlist their help in locating our friends.

Somehow in the midst of catastrophe it can be hard to really gauge the magnitude. We thought the plane might be landing. We thought everything was more or less ok in Santiago. We thought by daylight that things would start to return to normal.

Many hours later, we finally located our friends. Unfortunately they were unable to land and eventually were sent home. We are extremely sad that they are not here for a variety of reasons.

We spent the day cleaning up and trying to get some rest because we had only a couple of hours of sleep before the quake. I found it impossible to sleep, though, because every time I would start to drift off, there would be an aftershock and I would wake with a jolt, terrified that it was happening again.

At this moment we are gathered at Nick's grandmother's house along with his sister, who has been in town and is now stuck here for the foreseeable future. We are trying to figure out how to get to the farm, where we hear the damage is considerable. However, many roads and bridges are impassable and we are unsure when or how we will get there....

...this is all so, so surreal...

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Big Step!

I just got home from the farm and, big news, I drove myself back! All alone! And I went to the grocery store! This sounds ridiculous because most of you know me as terribly independent and fully capable of driving and shopping alone, but what you may not know is that I have ZERO sense of direction, and also no driver's license here in Chile. So technically I'm not supposed to be driving anyway, and if I did get lost, which was likely, I wouldn't really be able to ask for help. All that said, I felt confident enough to undertake the endeavor.

The first part of the trip was pretty easy. There was almost no traffic out by the farm, which is not entirely surprising for a Saturday in February. Saturdays are normally fairly quiet out there, but February is the traditional vacation month here, so it was especially vacant. I got a little bit of a sunburn on my left arm.

I managed to get on the right highway toward Santiago and entered the city without incident. There is a complicated series of highway turns to undertake that involve getting off and on about 4 different freeways because no one here has apparently heard of interchanges. I made the first 3 just well. It was the last one that tricked me. Somehow I ended up getting off of the highway in the wrong spot and being unable to get back on. I was on the southwest side of the city and we live on the northeast, so I was completely unfamiliar with the area. I didn't recognize any of the street names, and they all seemed to only go one way and not northeast, of course. I drove straight for a while hoping that the street would magically start going northeast (to be honest, I actually have no idea what direction I was going... I was trying to use the sun to approximate it but it seemed like every time I turned, it was still slightly above my and to the left). They didn't, so I turned a couple of times and became utterly lost. I had not a clue where I was...

Luckily, here in Santiago, if you drive long enough, you run into a highway. Eventually, I did. It turned out to be the first highway I was on when I got into town! So I had to do all of the crazy turns again, but this time I did it right, and I got all of the way back to the right side of town.

I had to go to the grocery store after that because there was no food in the house, and that turned out to be the most frustrating part of the day, but only because shopping on a Saturday afternoon is mayhem, as it probably is anywhere. However, I made it out in one piece and here I am back at home with the car and food and everything!