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Archive for September, 2010

The 1st Marine Division Band plays at Dana point/OC Register Photo

Pacific Marine Mammal Center sets some seals free/OC Register Photo

Last minute instructions from the Ref for the Krazy Bananas in laguna Niguel.

Fun in the sun, listening to the Capistrano Valley Symphony in Dana Point.

The Character Counts Jamboree in San Clemente.

A Shea Center Rider begins her routine at the latest fundraiser in San Juan Capistrano.

Man and his best friend in Dana Point at the Capistrano Valley Symphony's presentation of "All American Classics"

The San Clemente Tritons tried hard against their North Orange County rivals, Mater Dei, but couldn't pull it off on Friday night.

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The Nueva Vista Hermosa nieghborhood located in Villarrica, Chile, in the aftermath of the 8.3 earthquake that struck there on February 27, 2010.

PITRUFQUEN, CHILE- What is it that you really need?  Maybe even more important than the 5 or so items that have just come to mind, is, what are the essential and vital things you would have to have, could fit in a small backpack and could last at least two weeks?

Either the basic services in the United States are so good, thorough and un-extinguishable or its something no one thinks about, that the questions we need to ask ourselves, like what we really need, never come up.  Most likely most homes in the US have enough CostCo surplus that a two or three week dry sprint with out replenishing regular common goods could essentially go un-noticed but with a few minor adjustments.  Newspaper or gift paper would replace toilet paper, bottled mineral water would go to wash your face and hands or brush your teeth and canned fruits or vegetables would be fine for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

The view from above the Nueva Vista Hermosa nieghborhood in Villarrica, Chile in the aftermath of the 8.3 earthquake that struck on February 27, 2010.

I have lived overseas, on and off, for the last 25 years and it was simple to see in the first year if not the first month that anything can happen at anytime and often does.  It’s automatic for me, whether in a home or hotel, to prepare everything in a way that it would be simple to gather it up in not just a few minutes but in seconds.  When not at home, even the smallest most insignificant item, like a pocketknife, nail clippers or mini flashlight, can do me no good unless I can actually put my hands on them when I need to.

Friday, February 26th, 2010, was as bright and warm as any other day in the fading summer of Southern Chile.  The evening was cool and I could taste the autumn months coming if not the typical harsh rainy winter that makes this part of the continent so green.  We finished dinner and prepared for the following day and what we needed to do.  I had come down to our 130-acre ranch three weeks before to finish a house I had been working on over the past year in various trips.

An official from the municipality of Villarrica, Chile talks with residents of the Nueva Vista Hermosa nieghborhood in the aftermath of the 8.3 earthquake that struck there on February 27, 2010.

My large surplus military jacket hung over the door with my wallet, phone, passport, money, notepad and pen, bandana, wool cap with gloves, placed carefully in different pockets.  My jeans stretched across the desk and my boots just at the edge of the bed, within reach, and my flashlight handily tucked inside.

It’s not uncommon to have an earthquake or two during any short visit to Chile and seemed perfectly normal, almost expected, to feel the bed begin to sway back and forth and hear the doors and windows rattle.  Usually it lasts for a few seconds and fades away to a gentle humming but at 3:38 am that Saturday morning, it was not gentle from the start nor did it fade away.

A local resident of Villarrica, Chile is counseled by municipal official in the aftermath of the 8.3 earthquake that struck there on February 27, 2010

Instantly I was aware that it was serious and sat up waiting to catch the rhythm of the earthquake so as to move with it as much as possible.  I reached down for my flashlight and boots and found that they had already migrated to some other part of the room.  My mother and sister in law were already on their way out the door and calling for me to get out.  The electrical lines always go down and I knew there would be no light but without my flashlight I took to feeling my way along the shaking contents of the little room.  My jeans were already covered with everything that had been neatly stored away on the shelf above and once uncovered I sat on the bed that sputtered and jumped across room in order to put them on.  Expecting the shaking to diminish, I imagined I could then find my boots but rather than a dreamy soft finish, the shaking increased several fold.   I had an image of not getting back in the house again and was reluctant to leave my boots behind but the violence of the shaker now convinced me that I might not get out at all.

Standing, and moving against the wall to the door I found my jacket and entered into the dining room.  It was dark enough to not really see well but the light coming in the windows made it so that at least I didn’t go in the wrong direction.  Part way to the door I found my boots that had somehow traveled into the other room, and picking them up, making the last jumbled ten feet to the kitchen door, I was outside.  The shaking continued for another 30 seconds or so finishing the total official time of the quake at something around 2 minutes and 45 seconds.  We found out a week later that our area had been recorded at 9.3 on the Richter scale and would be called the third strongest earthquake in history.

The casket of a victim from the 8.3 earthquake that struck Southern Chile on February 27, 2010, is carried from a small church in Villarrica, Chile.

We stood outside in the cold air and waited not for the far off shaking to stop because we knew it wouldn’t but for the inevitable follow up shaker that is often times stronger than the original.  Our 30 foot high 500 gallon gravity feed water tank swayed from side to side, calming down but continuing to move with the endless aftershocks that now came.  The dogs moved about between our legs and each other, barking but mostly whining and whimpering.  The cloudless sky, framed by the shadows of maples, Oregon pine and other trees of the forest sat firmly above us like any other night.  25 miles from any town and a half mile from the closest neighbor there was no sound to remind us of what had taken place but our small wooden house that continued to creak and groan a few yards away.

Communication was on our minds but with no electricity and the cellular phones not responding, we turned to a small battery operated radio.  From the 20 or so stations we could get, there was no news and it seemed they had all been placed on automatic recordings some time much earlier.  A few stations in Argentina came through and began to report via call-ins that in fact an earthquake had hit Southern Chile but the facts of how bad it had been would go un-reported until later that day around 8 PM.  The Chilean government, via radio, made a few scattered and very basic statements in regard to the earthquake but gave very little detail.  Not until US President Barack Obama made an announcement about the “devastating” earthquake in Chile and the impending danger of a tsunami in Hawaii, that anyone had an idea that it was serious. We suffered no damage other than the doors and windows of our all wooden house would not open nor close.  A neighbor’s barn fell over and two other homes were pushed off the foundation about 2 feet.  The gravel road leading to the closest town lost a 50 foot stretch into the river below and here and there a water well closed up or animals got out of broken corrals.

Earthquake damage, on a small auxillary road in the 9th region, that struck Southern Chile on February 27, 2010 is marked off.

Chilean news sources had little to report except from individuals in the affected areas that called in.  We listened all day Saturday to the callers regular mix of confirming damage, explaining their communities immediate needs and a plea for help in locating a missing friend or relative.  It certainly seemed serious but with no official news, live television reports, or smoke in the distance, the warm blustery day moved on into the afternoon and evening like it had done the past three weeks.

We had decided to stay on the farm until we had news.  We had fuel in the truck and in several gas cans for the generator but were not in a position to waste it trying to get someplace where a possibly broken road or fallen down bridge would send us home with nothing and even less than with what we started with.  The neighbors seemed to feel the same way and we didn’t see or hear from anyone.  Saturday went calmly into the evening and we listened as the Chilean President vaguely explained the situation.  We went to bed knowing that although for us it wasn’t so bad, just 250 miles to the north on the coast whole towns were gone and thousands were dead or missing.

A small stuffed animal sits where a 7 year old girl died in her home when several tons of earth and debris fell on her house as a result of the 8.3 earthquake that struck Southern Chile on February 27, 2010.

Looting, assault, theft and general chaos that many towns experienced in the aftermath of the earthquake was not the case in the countryside.  First of all it takes gas and a tremendous effort to make it out of the city and so we weren’t worried.  If it came down to it, we would see and hear them a longtime before they got to us and with dogs and everything spread out, whatever might be of use they would still have to haul away.  Sunday came and we checked with the neighbors to see if their was any news apart from no electricity; next door, they had been in town for the night and confirmed some damage where streets had buckled, bridges settled and roofs caved in but all minor.  The biggest news was that road out suffered a cave in down to the river but was passable and that there was no gas but a load was expected the next day.

In the midst of crisis or not, and whatever issue is at hand, constant planning for that instant when whatever consumable would be needed to remedy a disaster, never leaves you.  At the grocery store I am always considering if we have enough candles, matches and batteries.  An assortment of canned fruit, vegetables and boxed milk almost always make it into the basket.  Kerosene and gas are always on the list and hand tools like shovels, pry bars or handsaws are never allowed to go broken and un-mended for long.  Used 55 gallon drums with the tops cut off, make excellent storage containers for chicken and turkey feed and even better water reservoirs.  A constant reserve of firewood along with nails, screws and a few sheets of plywood simplify and save time in fixing anything damaged.

We left early that Monday morning and found long lines at every gas station in town.  I concentrated on trying to find friends who might have some gas or know where to get some but everyone was bone dry or had only enough for their own needs.  My wife got through on the cell phone and I explained that we were all okay and only needed the basic supplies.  The supermarkets didn’t have everything but in going from to another we managed to pick up what we needed although we could see the shelves would be empty soon.

I checked the internet and found what I already suspected; the Orange County Register was looking for me and wanted some news with photos of what was going on.  That morning I made the rounds from the municipality to an area where several thousand tons of earth and covered over several homes in a small neighborhood, killing two people.  I covered the cleanup and the funeral of one victim while getting some good shots at the town hall where Chilean Navy personnel were directing vacationers on the best route home with the aid of maps showing road closures and where gas and food could still be found.  The Chilean Red Cross had assembled beds, food and water at a Poly-Technical school in order to aid non-Chilean travelers.  Volunteer fireman were directing traffic at crucial intersections and it seemed that any need or situation had its solution already worked out by local government authorities.

A cement bag offers encouragement to rebuild in the aftermath of the 8.3 earthquake that struck Southern Chile on February 27, 2010.

While waiting for gas, I worked on the article at the internet café although the electrical outages, tremors and computer line failures seemed to do their best to erase, loose or auto correct in Spanish my text; what should have taken an hour and a half to write took more than seven hours.  We continued to wait but then got word that all the gas was gone and there was no word when we would get any again so back to the house.  All in all, I saw no panic and only a slightly increased presence of the National Police in the streets.

The next week and a half we worked off the generator and even figured out a way to plug the house “in” like it was a toaster.  In the evenings we ran it for an hour or so in order to keep the freezer going, charge cell phones and see the news.  Apart from the lack of gas, the only other immediate situation to work on was the lack of building materials to finish the house.  The government had asked that businesses volunteer to ration goods like plywood, glass, nails, structural metal and zinc corrugated roofing.

In the 9th region of The Araucania in the South of Chile, it wasn’t any one story but thousands of little ones that made the earthquake impactful.  In meeting with friends, neighbors, suppliers, the gas station attendant and eavesdropping on the street, little vignettes of what had happened came to life.  A friend, Alejandro, found himself at his lakeside cabin and awoke that morning to find that a regular feature of the beach out front was gone; a sand spit 100 yards long and 50 yards wide had disappeared into the lake.  A business acquaintance found that the 75 year old owner of the dump truck he had just finished repairing the day before had walked out of his house during the quake and died of a heart attack before it was over.

Certainly, what occurred where we were cannot compare over what took place just 250 miles to the north in Concepcion and other coastal towns and cities.  The beach region has bounced back remarkably well but still languishes in downed and disconnected utilities, repairs undone, or almost worst, repairs partially done, and what you could call a “provisional” lifestyle lived by many in emergency dwellings.

My mother in law recalls the 1960 Valdivia earthquake, rated world’s worst at 9.5 and just 100 miles to the south, and how, just hours before the shaker, all matter of animals on the farm reacted either moving uphill (cows and sheep) or into the forest (dogs).  She talks about small creeks on her family’s land changing direction, drying up and even changing course.  Water wells drying up, valleys becoming hills and hills turning to valleys.

Speculation as to how to predict an earthquake or even who would be the best qualified to do so, seems to always be a worthy news item, if not the actual predictions themselves and until the next one, we will just have to wait it seems, so make your list and check it twice, you never know when you will need it.

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