(más abajo versión en español)
I was 5, the earthquake of 1960 happened in Chile.
My dad was the town mayor (Penco, Chile) and decided that our family should remain put at home, three blocks from the sea, because it was his duty to stand by the town's people, control them and guide them. There were no tsunami detection systems (the concept did not exist, we called them tidal waves). There were no sophisticated communication systems (systems that without power paralyze the functioning of human society).
Only common sense and survival instincts were available. Lookouts were coordinated and allocated at the edge of the beach. If the fire siren sounds, people would flee to the hills surrounding the town.
The siren sounded and the people, rightly so, ran in panic. I saw them running towards me, as I stood in the middle of the street, my legs almost buckled because of fear. However, I waited in the house where I had been instructed to stay. The hall moved like a large sailing ship. In the morning, there were dead fish and sea foam in my home, three blocks from the beach. We had survived, almost the entire town had survived. Everyone cheered and helped each other with solidarity.
They gave thanks that they were alive. Now, we have experienced an earthquake and tsunami much more gruesome. The country is progressing and is quite technologized. Catastrophe erupts in the dark of night and the fear takes hold of people, dogs and things are torn between movements, noise and destruction.
After the endless thunderous noise, experience taught me that the aftershocks would come later, getting less and less intense over time. People would begin to recognize each other, greet and help each other. We have had five days of aftershocks that are almost like more earthquakes. Three tsunamis that occurred without any alarm given to the population because of the ineptitude of the authorities who blame each other for not passing the information to the people. Technology did not help this time, not because it was bad or ineffective, but because men were unable to effectively use it to make appropriate and timely decisions.
During the early days, hordes of heartless criminals looted supermarkets and gas stations and robbed and burned shops. They stole everything: food, potato chips, home appliances, whole sides of beef that were in the carnage. They even took the cash registers of businesses. On the first night the neighbors were afraid for their families and their things.
We got organized in self-defense committees. I was in charge next to one of them). We closed the entrances to our neighborhood, we defined keys (code words), we coordinated radios thorough firefighters that were at different points. The priest from the church down the street was the liaison to between the police, the military and us. We have been watching the neighborhood for three nights. We have heard shouting, whistling commonly used by criminals and shootings. In one of the pickets people caught two criminals entering abandoned houses. They were detained by neighbors, beaten and surrendered to police. The second night, police caught another criminal across from the priest's house. (picture taken by Angelica, my wife, the second night of the disaster)
While waking hours were spent in the dark of night, only lit by the flicker of the campfire, I thought we have regressed culturally. We have regressed to the days of primitive hordes, where we would protect ourselves from animals with sticks and axes... In this case, the difference was that we were defending ourselves from other people, from our fears and anxieties, from our insecurities ... Last night a state of siege was declared ...
I remembered the shameful times of loss of rights, the times of economic, social and political marginality, but I realized it was another slow form of expression of the state power to restore order ... Now, as we sit on the sidewalks to chat with our neighbors, without sticks in our hands, some smoke and speculate that there will be no false alarms and that the replicas will be discussed existentially between plate tectonic settings and new Bravia land that refuses to settle down. Yesterday, power came back and regained the unexpected possibilities of cyberspace. I talked to my son Gonzalo, his wife Patty and our grandson Tatan.
I told my grandson that, just like him, I had lived an earthquake as a child. I wanted to share experiences and try to calm his spirit, feeling a shared complicit in adversity. I talked to my daughter, who lives in USA, and we saw her with her husband... through Skype, we cried together with my son-in-law. We contacted our friends in other cities and my teachers in Spain. Technologies that are useful: when you work and are well used ...!!!
Today, in the morning, we got organized to go to fetch water from a spring. Now we have something to cook and wash ourselves. While we ate, with Angelica, a new replica happened. I joke, because in recent days, whenever I intend to eat, go to the bathroom or change clothes, suddenly, an aftershock happens. One that is supposed to be a replica but ends up being a new quasi-earthquake. As I am in height, facing the sea in Penco, I notice that cars break frantic, with its insistent horns, up minibuses and people running and screaming. New tsunami alert. My parents and my sister with her family, live together at the same place of my memories as a child but in different newer houses, three blocks from the sea and the river.
They insisted that the worst was over and that they would stay in their homes. We agreed that in case of emergency they would run into the high and would meet us half way to my home. I looked for them and they did not appeared...people run terrified... a man driving out of control hit a lady who was helping her son and a badly injured her left arm... my parents and my sister and her family did not arrive...It was a false alarm ...
At this moment, my mother is cooking something and my father is reading in the living room. I hope my sister will agree to come up if she hears a new alert of tsunami.
I can not get to her... I can not be a tired "salmon" swimming against the stream of souls and artifacts that are howling through the streets. I hope she reacts and although the alarm is false, takes the right decision and runs to find me where we arranged to meet... to refuge in my house overlooking the menacing ocean. Five days I've been torn between the fury of nature its angry at such irresponsibility.
I've known the best of men and women who manage to be generous and help in adversity. I have known the worst of human nature, unable to control their passions, greed caught up in things necessary or unnecessary. A new strong aftershock as I write. The truth is, I can not distinguish between aftershocks and earthquakes. And I am supposed to have seismic culture. I have lived earthquakes since age 5. Ponder
In time, the main consequence will not be the destroyed houses and things or the dead. Things are recovered and we all eventually die. The main consequence is that we are deeply proud to be Chilean, and simultaneously we will have great sorrow and shame to be so.
Penco, Chile, 18:59 hrs., After the tsunami false alarm