Abi Benudis’ welcome to her college semester abroad in Santiago de Chile was an 8.8 magnitude earthquake that “literally swept me off me feet,” she reports. The Mamaroneck native, a 2007 graduate of Mamaroneck High School and a community heath and Spanish major at Tufts University, had barely settled in when the terremoto began on Saturday, February 27.
She e-mailed the Gazette with the following account:
It was the night before the start of my program. My travel mate and I spent the evening organizing our luggage and laying low in the youth hostel where we were spending the night. At approximately 3:45 am, I awoke to a shaking room.
At first, I thought the subway which ran under the hostel was causing the tremors. I soon realized this was not the case.
As we got out of bed, the two of us were thrust across the room. It was as if someone had lifted up our room and shaken it with full force.
Pictures began to fall from the wall, and our luggage shifted across the floor. Car alarms rang and glass came crashing down in the hallway outside our room. We ran to the door, but it was locked from inside, and without any light we could not find the key to exit.
Trapped in our hostel, we stood hand in hand and watched the paint crack from the ceiling down to the floor.
It felt like a lifetime, but after two minutes, the ground again stood still. We found our key, left our room and quickly made our way downstairs to join the other hostel guests, who were as confused and terrified as we were.
With cell phones and flash lights as our only electricity, a group of us stood in the lobby, speechless and stunned. We learned later that we had lived through the fifth largest earthquake in the past 100 years.
Now, 48 hours after the big quake, Santiago has experienced a dozen or so aftershocks – mini-trembles that are harmless, except for their ability to make my heart jump straight into my throat.
Nevertheless, I believe the worst has passed. Chile is a country accustomed to temblores; much of the infrastructure was built to handle the natural trembles of the earth. This is also a resilient country, ready to face the devastation and move forward.
As my host mother here in Santiago explained to me, “Aquí, la Madre Tierra siempre está diciendonos algo.” (Here, Mother Earth is always telling us something.)