Sunday, February 27, 2011

On the anniversary of the 2010 Chilean Earthquake

On the anniversary of a terrible date in recent Chilean history, the 27th of February, nearly a year is completed from the 3:34 AM earthquake in Chile that would generate a tsunami that would wash away towns, and would knock one apartment building flat on its back (photo 13 in this photo essay), and leave many, many homes in uninhabitable conditions and many people more without homes to return to, I have to tell you a story.

It's about juxtaposition. As it happens, I was in Chile during the Haiti earthquake, then in New Zealand for the Chile earthquake, and finally, on Easter Island for the New Zealand earthquake. Yes, I am tremendously lucky, and hopefully, sufficiently thankful.

In Chile, we had fundraising events and a media bath of "send aid," or "send supplies" to Haiti. I know Haiti continues to struggle, and the trials faced in that country are much different, and dare I say harder than what would later be faced here and later in New Zealand.

Bear with me as I fast forward about six weeks from the date of the Haiti earthquake, to when I found out about the earthquake in Chile. I digested the information as best I could, far from the source, and with the occasional missive from friends who actually lived through it.

And then one day, not long after the Chile earthquake, I was walking around Rotorua, NZ, and saw this:

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and this:

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And I felt my knees nearly give, and then lock.

No.

Chile fundraises for other countries. No one fundraises for Chile, I thought. We're all wineries and deserts and lakes and skiing and hiking and the Andes. Not a charity case.

Time went on, and many millions of dollars were raised to help Chilean earthquake reconstruction efforts, which are still ongoing, particularly in the hardest-hit region of Maule, where adequate housing is still an issue, and where reconstruction is far from complete. So yes. People do raise money for Chile, and with reason. Thank you New Zealand, and everyone else.

And as if to prove that disaster can strike countries of every ilk, Christchurch suffered a devastating earthquake just a few days shy of Chile's 2010 quake anniversary. I took this photo almost a year before the most recent quake from when the Christchurch Cathedral was spiffy and upright, when the city of Christchurch hadn't been so shaken, when so many people hadn't died from having been simply in the wrong place.

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And I see now that people are fundraising for New Zealand as well. For Haiti, for Chile, for New Zealand. Three hugely far-flung countries, with very different pasts and presents, joined in recent history by earthquakes.

It pains me to know that people are suffering, with physical and psychological pain, with death. In Santiago we all had to step over escombros (building debris) for months while waiting for it to be cleaned up. A year later, even in Santiago (which was nowhere nearly as damaged as Talca or other more southern cities), many buildings are still scaffolded, 2x4s holding up cornices in places where they could still fall. The people of New Zealand must be reeling, and my few contacts down there seem thoroughly shocked (though physically fine).

Maybe we're supposed to remember that calamity can happen in any place, at any time? That even wealthy countries can need to ask for help? That tectonic plates respect no borders?

I offer out hopeful thoughts for speedy recovery, body and soul for those who need it. To people in Haiti living precariously, to Chileans still hurting, missing loved ones, waiting for reconstruction, and to Kiwis newly shocked and injured, as well as the foreigners who may have been in these places when the quakes hit.

A tidy finish eludes me. Stay safe.