This day was as scary as the day of the big terremoto in Feb., even though it was lower on the Richter scale. It was bad because it came with warnings of a possible tsunami. What was worse… I was alone in the guesthouse and the kids were at their office in another town. It was not very far about twenty-five or thirty-minute drive away. But given the circumstances, the drive back took longer.
Beautiful Viña del Mar
The Chile Diary… chapter 4, March 11-12
Terremoto y Tsunami
Two earthquakes in quick succession; first a 7.2 followed by a slightly smaller one measuring 6.9, sent me scurrying out of the guesthouse. With me were the other residents from the apartments above us. We stood gathered on the stairs not knowing whether to walk out of the swaying building or wait it out. The decision was taken out of our hands!
Within minutes, the public address system blared out a tsunami alert! EVACUATE.
I didn’t know what to do. People began running, and all in one direction. I didn’t know why because I didn’t understand the announcements. I began walking down the sidewalk. It was a painful and slow walk. I was strapped with my back support. The collar supporting my neck was firmly in place as was the knee support around my right knee. The ’emergency bag’ which was rather heavy with; a change of clothes, passport and other documents, plus all my meds weighed me down. This emergency bag was always packed and ready and stood by the front door ever since the big one struck.
A young mother with her baby clutched tightly to her bosom spoke to me in rapid Spanish. I shook my head and said, “No español.”
She pointed in the direction of the sea, then to the people, and waved her hand indicating that I should run in the same direction. I only had time to ask, “Tsunami?” before she got into her car. She nodded and I began to walk as fast as I could without hurting my knees and back.
There was pandemonium in the streets. People were making a dash for it on foot and in cars. The roads and pavements were overflowing with panic-stricken folk.
My cell phone rang. It was Tintin, my son. His voice brought some relief. I told him what was happening and that I was clueless about where to go. So he told me to look for his friend Reggie at the pub. I brightened up a bit.
I made my way, huffing and puffing, to the pub – disappointment awaited. The pub was locked and deserted. By now my throat was parched and I was almost gasping for breath. I called back to inform my son.
“Stand there Mama, I’m on my way.”
“I’m not standing here,” I said. “The roads are swarming with people and cars on the move. Noone’s standing. I’m not going to either.”
Although I said that so firmly and decisively, I was not so sure where to move… where was this sea of people headed?
“Please, Mama, stay put in one spot. How will I find you if you move around?”
I could understand the panic my son felt by my decision and decided to stay put. But, once again, the decision was taken out of my hands. A carabinero on a bike called out to me to keep walking. That’s when I noticed the bike-borne policemen on the roads getting people to move and not stand. All in one direction! Highground; further away from the coastline.
I started walking down the street in the direction the whole world seemed to be going.
“I’m walking down 8 Norte,” is all I could say before we lost contact. I tried to call back but there was no network coverage. Now I was really alone. I could feel the tears welling up; not of fear, neither of self-pity, but of sheer frustration and helplessness.
I began to catch hold of people to inquire if any spoke English. Their negative replies only made it worse. I began to talk myself out of the mental state I was in. I repeated portions of Psalms 91, especially the parts that speak about God protecting us from “sudden disasters at noon,” and reminded myself that He “is my fortress, my place of safety” and He would “send His angels to protect me.”
It was reassuring, but the tears were already perched on the edge and I couldn’t blink them back. I kept up my slow, painful trudge. I felt a tap on my shoulder.
I turned to find a young girl, perhaps twenty-one or so. She handed me a small bright yellow card. I took it without bothering to read it. I was keen to know if she knew English.
“Very leetle,” she smiled and I was so relieved that the tears which hung precariously on the edge tumbled down.
“Tranquila, tranquila,” she said softly, over and over again, as she gently stroked my arm. I didn’t have to be a genius to understand what she was saying. It sounded like ‘tranquil’ and the look on her face and her actions made it quite obvious.
“Yes,” I replied drying my eyes.
“Yehwah is there,” she assured me in her faltering English and her hand pointed to the heavens above.
“No, Jesus is here,” I emphasized the “here” with my pointer and managed a smile. Sub-consciously, I had corrected here. Once a teacher always a teacher was the vague thought at the back of my mind.
“Okay. Now I going.”
“Where? Please stay,” I was almost begging.
“I have…go to… umm… my room friend,” I nodded to convey that I understood and thanked her.
I carried on walking down 8 Norte and she turned off right. I was feeling a bit calmer now. But, the tears didn’t stop and my throat was still parched. My mouth was dry and I was choking and try as I might there was no saliva to wet it. This set off coughing spells. My heart was pounding.
All of a sudden, I realized I had come to the end of the road, and it was a long road indeed. I could either turn right or left. I decided to stick with 8 Norte so I crossed the main road it joined and stood at the traffic light on the divider of the two main roads. I was tired and wanted to sit, but there was nowhere I could rest my aching back and legs. So I continued to stand and watch the tsunami of cars and people flow past me. The noise on the roads was loud and irritating.
I was wondering what it was about the honking horns that bothered me. It happens a lot and all the time in India; the noise pollution on the roads! Then it struck me; one doesn’t hear car horns on Viña’s roads. An occasional honk of an impatient driver would make people turn and stare at the driver disapprovingly. Today was an exception. Just then, I turned and lo and behold, there was the young Christian walking toward my traffic light!
“Hola,” she beamed.
“Hola,” I responded, surprised to see her return to find me. But thankfulness, more than courtesy, kept me from asking. She joined me and a few others who were standing there as well.
“You know… where you stay?”
“I stay with you.”
“Okay,” I said not very sure what she meant. But, I decided to give her the benefit of the doubt and took it to mean that she’d stand with me. Since she continued to stand with me and also gather the latest information about the situation, I was pleased that I was right. She laboriously translated the important parts for me. The alert had not been called off but the emergency situation had passed. That was something to be happy about.
“Come, I go with you,” and she caught my hand and took me across the road and we walked back the way we had come. I was walking even slower now.
She realized I was exhausted and would stop at every traffic light for a while to give me time to rest. Later, I understood how wise it had been for us to keep stopping at the traffic lights. It was the best way to get seen by the people looking for you.
Suddenly, it dawned on me that I didn’t even know her name and asked her.
“Joy,” I answered and we shook hands and in true Chilean fashion, she hugged me and kissed me on my cheek while I kissed the air around hers!
“I’m sorry, I’m being such a pain,” I said enunciating every word as slowly as I thought would be easy for her to understand. “I have a back and knee problem,” I continued and pointed to my lumbar support around my waist.
“I know. I see it. I am… a… a physiotherapist.”
OMGosh! I stared at her surprised. “Your angel?” my incredulous mind queried. I shushed it.
We had moved on to another traffic light and she struck up a conversation with a youth who had walked up and was waiting to cross the road. She wanted to know if he knew English. Fortunately, he did and better than hers.
She asked him to tell me that I shouldn’t worry as she would take me to my residence. I wondered why she kept telling me that. It made me uncomfortable. But I thanked her once again and added that I knew my way home. I was also uncomfortable that the boy, who she had shown she didn’t know, didn’t seem like a stranger she’d just met. So I told him that I could make my way back home now and didn’t need them to walk me home.
Before she could say anything, Reggie, my son’s pub owner friend who was driving someone to a safe place, spotted me and called out. He told me to wait and he’d be back for me in a few minutes. Magdalena didn’t seem too pleased with this. She shouted out something to him in Spanish and he retorted brusquely. And once again, Reggie told me to wait where I was. She asked me if I knew the man and how well I knew him. After she learned who he was and that he was a-okay, she dropped the topic. I was relieved.
We exchanged email Ids, phone numbers, and she wanted my home address. Once more it unsettled me, however, reluctantly I gave her my ‘home’ address; the guesthouse add. and we parted when Reggie returned.
This was a strange encounter! A total stranger picks me out of a milling crowd and gives me the moral support I need. Stranger still was the fact that she stopped handing out the little yellow ‘Jesus’ cards after she found me. Whoever she was, whatever her intentions, she provided me with the support I needed at a very difficult time. And no harm was done. I was grateful then and I remain grateful to date. Besides, when I didn’t require her assistance anymore, a friend appeared to help. Strange are the ways of God!
I didn’t see her again and neither of us called up or emailed each other. If she visited the guesthouse, she’d have known it wasn’t my home! Reggie told my son that he was glad he found me when he did. It seems that during times like these, a lot of petty thieves are on the prowl. That boy we chanced upon midway who without my permission joined us, didn’t augur well, according to him.
We waited at a prominent place where my son found us a short while later. He was with a colleague, Gabriel, who suggested I stay at his home till the evening. For a split second, I thought I should turn down the invitation as I didn’t know how I’d communicate with the family. They were going back to the office. But, I’m glad I went to his home.
The home was warm and hospitable. Besides, it was full of people so I wasn’t jumpy. The evening saw me leaving rather reluctantly because I was loath to stay the night alone at the guesthouse. But as things turned out, Tintin and Manu stayed with me. Though I did jump out of my bed in the middle of the night or perhaps the wee hours of the morning when my bed was rattled, I did get some necessary sleep.
My body was aching in the morning. The previous day, I was in shock and didn’t realize the wear and tear my body had taken. But today is another story… it hurts.
I’m spending the day at Gabriel’s house in Miraflores. It’s a reprieve from the scary ‘home alone’ situation. I must tell you all about my day stays in the Segura’s casa in Miraflores; the lovely family and pets. But tea beckons and I must go. Ciao.