Chile Quake Rocks Tulane Students

This story was published in The Hullabaloo on March 12, 2010.

All four Tulane students studying abroad in Chile have been accounted for, following the massive 8.8-magnitude earthquake that struck the country Feb. 27.

There are four Tulane students studying in three Chilean cities this semester: one in Arica, one in Santiago and two in Valparaíso, located 1,553, 314 and 357 miles from the epicenter, respectively.

Mark Beirn, the director of the Office of Study Abroad, said that Tulane took its first actions to ensure students were accounted for early Saturday morning by contacting Emergency Management. They did not, however, directly contact students until later on Saturday, when the OSA sent e-mails to all known Tulane students in Chile e-mails.

Because the partnered study-abroad programs have the power to act on Tulane’s behalf in emergencies, the general procedure is to “let the program make first contact with the students and then we follow up,” Beirn said.

Tulane junior Rachel Young was in a basement dance club in Viña del Mar late Friday night, approximately 375 miles north of the epicenter, when the earthquake first shook the country.

“We first thought it was normal a tremor. That happens all the time, but then it started to shake more, so my friend grabbed us and pulled us against the wall,” Young said. “Soon after that, all the power went out. People started to use their cell phones for light.”

After leaving the club through an emergency exit, Young and her friends found themselves in “pitch-black” chaos.

“There were people running in the streets and, as we walked back to the car, there was an explosion out of an apartment building,” Young said. “Someone walked by and I heard him say, ‘There’s going to be a tsunami. We’re all going to die.’ I hadn’t been scared until that point.”

Young and her host family spent three days at a relative’s house “in the hills” to escape a possible tsunami.
Upon returning home, the family’s seventh-floor apartment was in shambles, but the building remained structurally intact.

Though the television crushed her laptop during the earthquake, Young said she considers herself and her host family fortunate.

“Pretty much everything has returned to normal,” Young said.

The only other lasting effect of the earthquake has been the lack of water.

“We will have days at a time without water,” she said. “My apartment building has water tanks that they will turn on for 30 minutes everyday, but it’s not really enough.”

Two days following the earthquake, Young still had not received an e-mail from Tulane, so she e-mailed OSA to report that she was okay. Though she said she never received an e-mail, OSA said that it had, in fact, sent her an e-mail Saturday.

“No one from the Tulane administration has asked me once how I was doing with everything,” Young said. “I was pretty disappointed in the Office of Study Abroad in that regard.”

She did receive a response to her e-mail to Tulane, Young said.

Beirn emphasized the importance in an emergency of not inundating students with e-mails and making sure they received no conflicting information.

“We don’t want to alarm or overwhelm students,” Beirn said. “But in the same respect, we don’t want to underplay the situation, especially having just come off of what happened in Haiti.”

The enormous earthquake, 1,000 times more powerful than that of the 7.0-magnitude one that devastated Haiti Jan. 12, caused the city of Concepcion, where the epicenter was, to move about 10 feet to the west. As of Monday, Chilean media reported that 497 victims had been identified, though there are still hundreds of unidentified victims. Authorities say it could take months to quantify the exact toll.

The earthquake’s aftermath prompted the university to postpone classes, and some other American universities’ students reportedly have decided to switch their study abroad plans from Chile to neighboring Buenos Aires, Argentina.

Tulane junior Jessie Yoste studied abroad in Valparaíso last semester.

“The [seismic] tremors are so common, they probably occurred once or twice a month while I was there,” Yoste said. “They are short lived, only 30 seconds at most, and many times you don’t even feel them unless you are in a tall building.”

Though the earthquake was a huge catastrophe, Yoste said she was optimistic for a strong Chilean recovery.

“The solidarity of the Chileans is amazing,” Yoste said. “They have a true sense of national pride, which motivates a self-help approach to a disaster like this.”

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