Since last month’s massive earthquake in central Chile, the Associación de Chilenos de Québec (ACHQ) has spearheaded the effort to connect Montrealers with their friends and families in the affected region, and has coordinated a number of relief efforts.
“We had to be creative,” said ACHQ vice president Ledda Urbani in Spanish. “There were people who still had some access to the Internet, so we had to form a chain of communication from which the details could flow little by little.”
Contact with the area has been difficult due to the breakdown of electricity, telephone lines, and road networks since the earthquake rocked Chile in the early morning of February 27.
Measuring 8.8 on the Richter scale, the three-minute earthquake was the seventh strongest ever recorded, and the strongest since 2004’s Indian Ocean earthquake. It has caused widespread devastation in the country’s second largest city, Concepción, and the surrounding area. The number of confirmed deaths currently stands at over 700.
Urbani said the most important problem is currently reconstruction, as “500,000 houses have been destroyed and two million people [have been] left without a roof.”
ACHQ has planned a series of events ranging from folklore shows to club nights to fund Chile’s National Office for Emergencies and the Chilean Red Cross.
“The volume of the damage has left people without jobs, schools, or health services,” said Urbani.
Nicole Collier, a U1 Sociology student at McGill who has lived in Chile with her family since 2005, was in a suburb of Santiago during and after the earthquake. She described the situation as surreal, stating that although “most of the damage was in [Concepción], there were clues of destruction everywhere: broken light bulbs, cracks in the pavement.”
Collier described a trip to the supermarket the following day as “a typical end-of-the-world movie scene where everyone is running for supplies.”
Chilean president Michelle Bachelet declared a state of emergency in response to the quake, which was followed by a series of aftershocks and a tsunami warning for much of the Pacific coast.
Nelson Odeja, president of ACHQ, said that Bachelet handled the situation responsibly and competently. “Things are much better, though there are still problems at the epicentre” said Odeja in Spanish. “Not of a lack of [basic goods], but problems of sheer destruction, problems of getting things to those who need them.”
He extended deep thanks to the Quebec community for the support it has given the organization, while calling attention to the ongoing aftermath of Haiti’s earthquake earlier this year. “We need to harmonize coordination; this isn’t about absorbing or polarizing attention from Haiti.”
Odeja added that Chile is well-prepared for such natural disasters, partly due to their frequency.
Rex Brynen, a professor in McGill’s political science department, stated in an email that “there will be major long-term reconstruction costs, but Chile’s relatively high gross national product per capita means that it wouldn’t qualify for assistance from many aid agencies.”
Brynen added that “the impact of natural disasters is always shaped not only by the disaster itself but the social, political, and economic context within which it occurs.”
According to NASA, Chile’s earthquake shortened the day by approximately one-millionth of a second, and shifted the earth’s axis by eight centimetres.