Against the tide

By Heidi Isaza in Chile

Chile Earthquake

Quake survivors struggle to cope. (Paula Saez/WV)

Amid the constant hum and buzz of helicopters and airplanes coming and going, I made it to Concepción, near the epicenter of where the earthquake hit. It was a short ride from Santiago on a small airplane packed with blankets, diapers, milk, juice, and other urgently needed supplies.

It wasn’t until we arrived at Concepción’s small but busy airport that I realized how strange our the situation is as aid workers.

When I got off the plane with another World Vision colleague, it dawned on me that we were two of the only people trying to get into Concepción—everyone else was trying to get out. We were like fish swimming upstream. At the airport’s exit, I walked through a crowd of adults carrying what they could and kids holding teddy bears, dolls, and even a little boy with a stuffed Mickey Mouse.

I wasn’t on the ground for more than an hour before I felt the aftershock—the first “big” earthquake I have ever been in. We were sitting outside the airport when the ground started to sway back and forth, back and forth. The movements were small at first, then increased in size. I looked in my Chilean colleagues’ eyes—the tension was visible, no one said anything until the swaying stopped.

Chile Earthquake

Paul Saez comforts families in a devastated fishing village near the quake's epicenter. (WV staff)

It didn’t last more than a minute. When the earth stopped moving, everyone took a deep breath and went back to their duties—until the tsunami warning started going off. Some people started running, saying “Alerta de tsunami!”

After a few minutes, it was determined that we were safe, but there was some uncertainty as to the well-being of our colleagues who had gone to costal zones—the hardest-hit areas. Later, it was confirmed that they too were safe. And everyone else went about the task of getting supplies to the survivors.

It might have been my imagination or the fact that I had just arrived, but it appeared that the line to leave Concepción doubled in size after the aftershock.

For me, it is a privilege to be a fish swimming up this stream—especially when I know there are others even further up who need help to survive.

Related: Chile: A First Look (March 3, 2010), Back to Chile (March 1, 2010)

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Filed under Chile earthquake, On Assignment

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