The massive earthquake that rocked Chile’s central coast Feb. 27 affected more than just the locals. More than 700 people were killed during the three-minute, 8.8-magnitude earthquake, and thousands more have been affected, with neighboring countries on high alert as they braced for a possible tsunami on their shores. While those in Milwaukee may not have felt the tremors, they, too, were affected by having family and friends living in that part of the world.
Although the actual location of the earthquake was near the coast of central Chile, it was large enough to shake buildings in Chile’s capitol, Santiago, 200 miles away. Santiago, a modern, metropolitan area, is where seven Marquette University students have been living for the past four weeks as they attend the Pontificia Universidad Catolica through the university’s study abroad program.
According to Kristen Michelson, study abroad director for Marquette, all seven students are safe. Five of them had spent the last four weeks in an immersion program in the town of Linares, run by Maryknoll lay missionary Cecilia Espinoza, in central Chile. The program ended Thursday, Feb. 25, and the students were then transitioned back to PUC, missing the earthquake by two days.
Josie Pierce is a nursing and Spanish language major at Marquette, and one of the students visiting Linares before the earthquake.
“I was writing an e-mail to my boyfriend when I began to feel my entire room shake,” she wrote in an e-mail interview with your Catholic Herald. “At first I was extremely confused to what was happening, as I had never experienced anything like this before. I heard my host mom yell my name and I ran into the hall.”
Amid shouts of “Que es esto, que es esto?” (What is this, what is this?), Pierce and her host mother held one another and waited for the violent shaking to stop.
“As the entire house was shaking I (began) to be even more scared,” she wrote, “wondering what would happen if the roof caved in. I then (began) praying. The earthquake only lasted two and a half minutes, but it seemed much, much longer.”
Because of a 1960s law that required all houses and buildings constructed to be able to withstand earthquakes, the house in which Pierce is staying withstood the shaking.
“While the house where I’m staying shook violently during the earthquake, it is still perfectly intact,” she added. “Only a lamp broke in my house, which is amazing. Also, it was difficult that we didn’t have electricity until 10 p.m. Saturday night, therefore I felt helpless that I was unable to call my family to tell them that I was OK.”
Although her parents were worried for her safety when the earthquake hit and afterward, Pierce is determined to stay until the end of the semester.
“While there are occasionally aftershocks (I experienced one while writing this e-mail), I do not feel as though I’m in danger, especially (since) they’re predicting that another earthquake that size will not occur for about 50 years,” Pierce wrote. “Even though I think that (my parents) are worried with all that has happened, they agree that I am no longer in great danger.”