Earthquake in Chile

By Jorge Jordán, in Lima, Peru

Chilean Red Cross teams began search and rescue activities, evacuating people and beginning immediate assessments of the situation after a powerful 7.9-magnitude earthquake shook Chile's northern region, Tarapaca, on 13 June. The earthquake lasted nearly a minute and left at least twelve people dead and 100 injured.

It affected the cities of Iquique, Arica, Pozo Almonte, Huara, Pica, Matilla, Tarapaca and Alto Hospicio, in northern Chile, causing electricity, water and telephone line cuts. The quake was also felt in the coastal cities of Arica and Antofagasta, in Chile, in the Bolivian capital, La Paz, and in southern Peru where no major incidents have been reported.

"It was impossible to stay standing when earthquake began. The first thing I did was to go out into the street, because I was scared the roof would collapse, and this is what happened later," said Maria Gutierrez, living in a neighborhood of the city of Iquique.

Due to generalized fear among the population after one of the most powerful tremors of this century in the region brought down many walls and houses, hundreds of families have slept out on the streets and in open areas, dreading replicas of this event.

More than 30 volunteers of the Chilean Red Cross Relief and Health Service, from the regional committee of Tarapaca, have been evaluating the affected area, working to rescue those injured and giving first aid, together with Chile's National Emergency Center, (ONEMI).

The joint Chilean Red Cross/ONEMI evaluation team is working in the rural areas of Pozo Almonte, the most affected place. Telephone and electricity lines have been damaged and communication is very difficult and slow between headquarters and branches.

"I was at university when the earthquake began. Right away, I tried to help as many people as I could to evacuate the building and then I gave first aid. Then I went to the Regional Relief office to begin coordination with volunteers and see what could be done. In the city of Iquique, we worked together with firemen and policemen evaluating the damage. We also went to Pozo Almonte, where, like my colleagues I gave first aid and psychological support to injured people," explained Ra=FAl Castro, Regional Relief Director of the Chilean Red Cross, in the Tarapaca Branch.

"As a consequence of the earthquake many people are still in shock, the first thing I did was give psychological support to children and adults. This is a special kind of natural disaster, it comes and goes as fast as a midsummer unexpected rain shower, but it leaves long-term shattered emotions," says Silvia Peredo, President of the Red Cross Pozo Almonte Branch.

The Chilean Red Cross headquarters has opened a special bank account and two telephones lines to collect funds for earthquake victims. Messages have also been broadcast on radio and television stations.