Desert Visa High School graduate Abbey Richardson knew that studying in Chile would be an experience she would always remember. What she didn’t realize was that the experience would include one of the most powerful earthquakes in centuries.
Saturday morning, Richardson had been in Chile just a few hours when the 8.8 magnitude earthquake rocked the country, triggering Tsunami warnings across the Pacific from San Diego to Hawaii to Japan.
The journalism major was about 100 miles from the epicenter, in Vina del Mar, as part of a University of Arizona international study program.
Shortly after the earthquake struck, a friend of their daughter, who saw the news on CNN, called Debbie and David Richardson of Ahwatukee Foothills.
“I think any parent can relate to the not-knowing status of their child’s welfare,” said Debbie Richardson. “I think the real scary thing is that she’s in a coastal area, about 100 miles from the epicenter, and they were saying that the coastal areas were hit hard.”
For hours, Richardson’s parents had no word on her status until first a text message from one student mentioned seeing her and then Richardson found a fellow U of A student in Vina del Mar whose host-home had power. She managed to contact her parents.
“Have seen and talked with Abby very briefly on Skype, and she is fine,” her parents wrote in an e-mail sent out Saturday afternoon. “Not scared at all, in fact her response to the question, ‘So what was it like?’ was ‘I thought it was kind of fun!!!’ That’s our Abby! Said they are having many after shocks and they are getting used to it.”
On Monday, Debbie said the U of A professor traveling with the students managed to get a taxi and visit each of the students in person, checking on their welfare, the condition of the host families’ homes and reported back to the parents.
“For now we feel like she is safe,” Debbie said.
The earthquake struck around 3 a.m. Feb. 27. Chile has some of the toughest building codes in the world, but authorities estimate that more than 700 people died, with rescue efforts continuing. Power and water were out to large sections of the country, and the president of Chile has asked for international assistance.
Richardson, in her blog, wrote about her experience.
“Although many of the students in the group decided to go out the first night, I was exhausted and decided to go to bed early. Which in hindsight, after what happened that night was a great idea.
“At about 3 a.m. my bed began to shake. My first thought was that perhaps a train was nearby, but when all of my drawers flew open, and I heard items shattering outside my door, I knew this was no train. As the Earth shook I flew out of bed, opened my door and stood in its arch. At exactly that time my host mom grabbed me and screamed, ‘Es un Teremoto, Teremoto,’ which means it is an earthquake. She ushered me outside where we stood until the Earth was calm once more. The sound of barking dogs and sirens then filled the pitch black streets. Candles took the place of the electricity we no longer had.
“At the time, I thought the earthquake was so exciting and did not realize the impact it would have on the country. It seemed like no big deal initially, but the next day I realized how dangerous it really was.
“My host mom left to go check on her elderly mother who is in her 90’s and lives alone. She was not as fortunate as us because the walls of her house were ripped apart and many treasured items lay on the floor in a million pieces. Our house was relatively untouched except for the power that went out. We were lucky that the water was working.
“I attempted to go back to sleep, but the after shocks continued to shake the house every so often and sirens could be heard throughout the night. My first night in Chile is something I will never forget.”