2010.03.01 - Chile earthquake

Chile earthquake, Bilbao and visitors

My sister's 40th birthday on Saturday 27th was thoroughly overshadowed by the terrible news from Chile. I was planning a morning call to my sister in Taiwan but was pulled out of bed by a ringing telephone and our Chilean/Danish friend Vivi giving us the news that Chile had been shook by an 8.8 earthquake in the middle of the night (local time). Paula immediately suspected the worst as she heard me answer in Spanish. Immediately after hanging up on the conversation with Vivi she started making phone calls to family members in Chile. She got a connection on one of her first calls, when she spoke to Isabel - her grandmother's housekeeper - but other than that we would have to wait 6 or 7 hours before hearing the first signs of life from the family. Isabel was very upset at the moment Paula talked to her, as she herself couldn't get hold of any of her family members in the south, near the epicenter.

Chile in the news all weekend ...

In the first hours after the shake, CNN would only show live photos from Santiago in the dark. We could understand that the epicenter was further south, close to where Paula's uncle Kike lives with his family. Although Santiago looked like it had escaped the rumble with most buildings intact and only a church tower and a few elevated highways in disarray, we could only fear what a small village near the epicenter would look like. The wait was almost unbearable. Unanswered phone calls, increasingly disturbing news on CNN .... not a good combination. Paula handled the situation really well and put all her secretary and networking skills to work and was eventually able to track down her brother (well, I guess her brother tracked down her with the help of Facebook, but it could just as well have been her). He told her some good news - all were safe! What a relief!! But he also told her that her uncle's house in Cauquenes had come down on top of his two cars and that 80% of Cauquenes was destroyed.

Late in the afternoon Paula's mother Pilar called (of course at the only time Paula was not glued to the phone or computer ... she was taking a shower!). She had been staying at the farm in Rengo when they were awaken by violent shaking. They ran to the garden and hung on to a tree while all h*** was loose. The ear-shattering shaking lasted for about 90 seconds after which they realized that all the windows of the house had broken, along with the chimney and pool table and the water had spilled out of the pool. They had heard nothing but the rumbling of the Earth. While Pilar told me this - 10 hours after the quake - her legs were still trembling, she told me. Pilar and Jorge decided to drive back to their home in Valparaiso shortly after the quake. This journey which would normally last 3 hours took them 7 hours to complete due to the broken roads. All the bridges were about 20cm off-level with the roads, she said. Back in Valparaiso she was glad to see that nothing much had happened. Broken belongings but no major damage in their immediate surroundings. This was much in line with the news we got from Santiago at this point. But as time passed we started to get reports from the south where the situation was much worse, e.g. in Chile's second largest city Concepcion. It was not without a bit of anxiety and a lot of unanswered questions that we went to bed late Saturday evening.

Sunday followed the recipe from the day before. A lot of CNN and a lot of Facebook. The phones were down but somehow the smartphones managed to send messages and posts to Facebook. During the day Paula was able to locate most of her friends, with only a few staying incommunicado. As CNN started to show videos from Youtube the full terror of the quake started to unfold. It soon became clear that the villages on the coast not only had to stand through one of the strongest earthquakes ever recorded, they also had to endure a tsunami which eventually proved the biggest hurdle of the two - at least for the coastal villages. Many people had escaped to the hills during the quake but had returned to the village when they had heard in the news that there was no risk of a tsunami - only to be carried away by one of the three big waves.....

During the Sunday Paula's two other uncles loaded up the truck with water and gasoline and headed down to Cauquenes to try and locate Kike. While they were making their way down there, Paula's network showed it's worth and got news from Cauquenes. Kike and the family were staying with the father-in-law whose house was still standing. All were well and off the streets. We could now go to sleep.

As you can understand from the above, the quake and the safety of our family has laid heavily on our minds these last days and it does. But I also have other things to tell you ....

Friday two weeks ago, we met up with some of our friends for a drink at the Pickwick bar in town. Here Noelia, Paula, Heini and one of Heini's friends (forgot her name!)

Sean withTom in the background

After several delays our container was finally scheduled to arrive on Monday 22nd. Unfortunately I was not going to be around for that as I left for Bilbao the day before. This was not a very popular move with 1/3 of the household (Peo didn't seem to care either way), but hey ... it's work ! I went down there to participate in running a course in the maintenance system we use onboard our vessels, so it wasn't that I was just running away!! Luckily Paula's friend Rocio came over to see her while I was away, so that there was somebody to help her organize things as they were carried in to our little home. I say little because compared to all the stuff we have, it is relatively little! One of the movers asked Paula how many people lived in the apartment ... he was very quiet when she told him that only two people lived there. All he could say was: !... very many things"!

The movers were unfortunately not as well organized as the previous movers, so many of the things were just left scattered around on the beds, tables or sofas. Imagine the desperation in Paula's voice when she called me, just to let me know that I would NOT be allowed to be away on business next time we have to move !!! I don't know what she was on about ... when I came home two days later everything was pretty much in its place!

While Paula and Rocio were partying in Malmö, I was working hard in Bilbao. Between work and eating we hardly had time to see the city! Or should I say the city outside of the many small bars ! We might be from the high north but we adapt quick, so after returning from work we went out to socialize (with ourselves!) in the bars until dinner time, which in Spain means 10:30pm! One evening I was able to run around town a bit before meeting up with my colleague Simun Erik for the usual "pre-dinner socializing", and I was pretty surprised by what I saw. Apart from the Guggenheim museum, Bilbao is a pretty attractive city with a pretty old quarter and a nice riverside promenade. Even the food is good! Just don't tell my Spanish colleagues that I said so!!!

Walking bridge over the river in Bilbao

One of the ugliest buildings I have ever laid eyes on ... the Guggenheim

The riverside promenade

The old quarter of Bilbao

A quick run-around to get a few photos and a small present for Paula

One of the many churches/cathedrals in the old Bilbao

Returning from Bilbao proved to a bit of a hassle. The French airspace controllers were on strike (if I had to work 35 hours a week and have a zillion holidays a year, I would be on strike as well!), which meant that nobody had any idea about when we could take off from Barcelona. I relaxed over a nice dinner while waiting, but many of my co-travelers didn't and let me tell you - there was not much sympathy for the French at this moment !! I even heard one younger British guy say " ... and to think that we helped them out in the Second World War"!! After a couple of hours waiting time we boarded the plane. As soon as we were all sat down and the door was closed, the captain told us that he had no idea when we would be able to take-off! A bit later he came back telling us that we had been planned to leave 2 hours 15 min. later ! This was later put forward by 30 minutes, which still meant that we had almost two hours of sitting around to do. For once I was seated next to some people I could actually enjoy chatting to !! There was a Swedish and a Norwegian guy in the same row as me and we were able to put the whole Vancouver Winter Olympics straight between us!! Well, I don't really know if I was much of a help there, seeing that the Danish performance was pretty pathetic ! We're not well known for our winter sports talents.

I arrived home at 3am and thought I had deserved to stay home from work the next (the same) day, so I could help Paula organize the closets once I awoke from my coma!

Friday evening we were visited by Gitte and Peter. They were on their way to Norway for a week of skiing and had so decided to make a short pit stop in Malmö. Just before we left Sweden for Korea 3 years ago we had joined them on one of their skiing holidays in Norway, so we were pretty jealous of their upcoming week in the Norwegian mountains. Hopefully we will be able to join them next year. Saturday morning ... well, you already know about Saturday. Except for the short shopping trip through town with Gitte and Peter and the following Sushi-feast, we stayed in, drowning our worries in Gin & Tonic. Early Sunday morning they packed their things and drove north. Thanks for the visit and see you at Easter????!!!???

Peter surveying the sleeping arrangements!!

Getting ready for bed ....

At one of the many sushi restaurants in Slussen in Malmö

Paula putting up a brave face, but there were other things on her mind than sushi ...

Shopping will do that to even the best of men ....