Chile: ocean victims get back in touch with families

11-03-2010 Feature

Fear of tsunamis and aftershocks prompted many to flee the coast of southern and central Chile after the recent earthquake. Ten days on, many victims are living in improvised camps.

  ©ICRC/Daniel Rojas / V-P-CL-E-00018    
A destroyed boarding school in Tirúa.
  ©ICRC/Daniel Rojas/    
ICRC delegates visit a camp in Quidico. Dozens of families abandoned their homes when the earthquake and tsunami struck Chile on 27 February 2010.    
  ©ICRC/Daniel Rojas/ V-P-CL-E-00019    
Mapuches Juana Millahual (69) and her husband visit Tirúa. The family lives in Lleu-Lleu, a town near Tirúa.
  ©ICRC/Daniel Rojas/V-P-CL-E-00020    
Juana Millahual, in traditional Mapuche costume, talks to an ICRC delegate.

Last Monday, an ICRC team contacted farming and fishing families in Quidico, which lies in Bío-Bío's Eighth Region, Arauco Province. The tsunami destroyed their kiosks along the coast in La Puntilla but their houses are still standing, surrounded by dead fish, rubble and refuse. " Everything's upside-down! " explain local residents.

Like most of her neighbours, Custodia Sáez (80) is afraid. People in Chile know that the Earth is slow to calm down here, but this time they are more afraid than usual. At 8.8, the 27 February quake was one of the most intensive ever recorded and there have been daily reports of aftershocks. People keep asking each other " Did you feel that? " The fear of further earthquakes is made worse by the thought of what the next few weeks'cold and rain will bring.

" The ocean winds frighten me, " says Custodia, visibly distressed. These people have spent all their lives on the shores of the Pacific, watching the sun rise over the beautiful Chilean coastline. But now they are hoping to move further inland. Terrified by the earthquake, many are unable to sleep and have decided not to return to their homes.

Tirúa lies some 20 km from Quidico. Here too, the effects of the earthquake and tsunami have made themselves felt. The results were devastating, with many buildings unable to resist the power of the water.

Mobile phone networks and landlines are getting back to normal. The trouble is that everything in what Chileans call " earthquaked " houses is either broken or lost. That includes mobile phones containing the contact details of family and friends.

Remote areas still have no electricity, making it impossible to charge mobile phones. And even if they could charge their phones, many would be unable to make calls because they have no credit left on their prepay cards.

Thanks to the mobile Red Cross teams, Custodia has been able to contact her family in Santiago to let them know she is safe, although the nights are cold and she worries about how to get supplies over the next few days.


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 For further information, please contact:  


Sandra Lefcovich, ICRC Brasilia, (currently in Chile), tel: +562 783 180 17 or +55 61 81 22 01 19

Silvia Santander Andrade, Chilean Red Cross, tel: +56 2 777 14 48

Marçal Izard, ICRC Geneva, tel: +41 79 217 32 24

For information on the overall response of the Red Cross and Red Crescent to the disaster in Chile, please visit the website of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies: