By Tanya Atwater
Special to the Redstone Review
CATRICO, Chile – We are all fine, although it has been pretty wild. I have been staying with my sister Illani Atwater in a small farmhouse in Catrico, a tiny farming village near Villarica in southern Chile.
Saturday morning, 3:30 a.m., we awoke to rocking beds. I have studied earthquakes and tectonic plates all my life and so I thought “Hmm, how fun, a little earthquake.” Then came much stronger rocking: “Hmm maybe not so little.” Then: “Good grief! This is serious.” It sounded like the house was being torn apart! Everything was creaking and screeching and clunking, and panels of corrugated roof were flapping and banging overhead. I rolled onto the floor. The bed was too low to get under so I stayed in a safe-ish triangle next to the bed. Conk, splash: a full water glass fell on my head. I put pillows over my (now wet) head. Then came a huge crash; the water heater had crashed onto the floor in the hall, erupting muddy water (we later discovered: this tank is heated through pipes in the wood stove, so there were no broken gas connections to worry about at least).
The wild shaking went on and on and on and on and on, each set of waves ebbing (the end at last?) then a new set arriving to yank us around in new directions.
When it finally faded out, we staggered up calling to each other in the pitch dark. I found some shoes and crept around crunching unknown things underfoot. There was no electricity, of course. We found matches and, by their lights, found candles, though we couldn’t leave them sitting anywhere for fear of aftershocks. The neighbors showed up to be sure we were okay, and Illani’s friend, Raul arrived from the barn apartment, having jumped off the second story balcony to escape walls crashing down. He turned off our water feed and we bucketed out the spewing water heater until the tank finally emptied itself. It was dark with mud that had sedimented in the tank. Gross!
Then we just looked at the mess and laughed. All the furniture had danced around the rooms (including the hugely heavy wood stove!). Everything had come off the shelves, including lots of jars of Illani’s delicious applesauce. Everything was swimming around in mud and applesauce and broken glass and who knows what else. An astonishing mucky mess. Ironically, the one cabinet with glass doors was all in order – the doors held and nothing inside seemed at all disturbed. Aftershocks were rattling around every little while, so we heated some water on the gas stove and took our tea and bread out into the moonlight and chatted with several wandering neighbors, waiting for dawn.
The time went by quite fast and someone remarked, “Time flies when you are having fun.” When Illani translated this, we really cracked up: the equivalent Chilean saying (referring to dancing) is “Time flies when the floor is moving.”
One funny thing, it seems that all the frames in the house were left with slightly different shapes. All the windows that wouldn’t close before are now easy, while others, good fits before, are now stuck. The front door that used to annoy us by slamming shut now gets stuck on the floor a little open until we push it closed. Best, the floor got warped (actually unwarped?) so that the kitchen table, the one that wasn’t stable unless we angled it across the floor, is now solidly balanced in its place.
Now it is Monday night. My ticket says I should be taking off for home. Ha ha. I was supposed to be leaving from Concepción – right over the epicenter. Ha ha ha. At the main Santiago airport, the roof of the international terminal is down and the control tower is damaged, so who knows. This could definitely take a while.
In spite of all this mayhem, we are comfortable and our lives surprisingly routine as long as we don’t need to go anywhere. I guess we’ll get to finish some of those projects that we hadn’t gotten around to.
Tanya Atwater is a retired Professor of Tectonics at the University of California at Santa Barbara. She lives in Santa Barbara, Calif.
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