"The earthquake of 8.8 degrees on the Richter scale at 3:34 am surprised us all and we got out of bed startled. The move lasted almost 3 eternal minutes that seemed to go on forever, and ever.
I ran from the house, as fast as I could, like all the other Padres, in pajamas, barefoot. I slowed down when I thought of the possible dangers – fallen electrical lines, broken glass, falling debris, fallen trees. We looked at each other and figured what might be the best thing to do. Then we went out to the street and spent an hour or so talking with our neighbors. Everything seemed so normal in the darkness we decided to return home and go to sleep. The sirens of the police and firefighters kept us awake.
When dawn came we discovered that the old buildings, made of adobe, in downtown Santiago had collapsed. Along the coastline and the in the southern cities everything was destroyed. We decided to get in touch with the people we knew to see if they were all right. We couldn’t because the phone lines were down.
Three of us priests headed for the emergency room at the Condes hospital. We gave the sacrament of the sick and heard confessions of those who were most seriously injured. We tried to console their families.
Because this hospital is near our Cumbres school lots of our students began to show up – they were injured as they enjoyed the last days of summer vacation along the coast. 2,000 young people were having en end-of-summer party at a local disco – the building collapsed during the earthquate. As the helicopters, ambulances and private cars brought the injured in, I realized that I knew most of them – many of them since they were children. The hospital was like an anthill with doctors and nurses running to and fro. I saw one young man I knew with his skull crushed by falling debris. Another young man I know was missing both arms and his skull was crushed too. A girl had her leg hanging off. Little by little I realized than I knew almost all of these young people. What could I possibly say to their parents? I spent the first day at the hospital helping to receive the injured and keeping them company.
Then there is the drama of the people swept to sea after the earthquake. One of our school families were staying at a house by the sea… a huge wave came in and swept them away. The parents and two children aged 7 and 5 were saved. But the two little ones were lost. ... There is nothing to do.
So, although we are all perfectly well and all our schools are in good condition and undamaged, huge areas of the country have been devastated and very many people are suffering. We are doing our best to help, trying to get things back to “normal.”
Luckily, Chile is a serious country and well prepared for earthquakes. An 8.8 on the Richter scale would have destroyed many other countries. So far the casualties are under 1,000 and things are slowly beginning to work again.
Please keep us in your prayers. We need them so much!
Fr. Alfredo Márquez, L.C.