For some Yalies, Chile quake hits close to home

Molly Serventi-Gleeson ’11 was at a nightclub in the resort town of Algarrobo, Chile, early Saturday morning with her study-abroad host siblings and a few friends when she felt the floor underneath her roll like a wave. She did not think much of the trembling until the chandeliers above her began to sway from side to side and everyone started to run toward the club’s exits. As Serventi-Gleeson and her friends dashed outside, they were careful to stay away from telephone poles or any other tall objects.

While Serventi-Gleeson knew there had been an earthquake, she only realized its scale several hours later. An 8.8-magnitude earthquake had struck Chile about 197 miles south of Santiago, the nation’s capital, killing at least 700 people and leaving 2 million displaced. Meanwhile, Elis with family in Chile — there are currently 15 Yale University students from the country, according to the Office of Institutional Research — said they were scrambling to reach relatives over the weekend.

“It didn’t last for more than two minutes,” Serventi-Gleeson said of the quake. “It wasn’t too frightening, but it was a bizarre situation.”

Serventi-Gleeson, who has been studying abroad in Santiago this academic year, spent the rest of the night waiting outside with her host family in case aftershocks brought down the roof of the family’s beach house, which is built on stilts. She said she could feel the entire house shaking at times, but the house was undamaged aside from some broken cups and glasses.

Serventi-Gleeson said there was little damage in Algarrobo, located about an hour’s drive away from Santiago, although there was no running water or electricity, and cell phone lines were jammed all Saturday, she said.

“We were just so grateful,” she said. “I felt horrible when I heard about the mounting casualties in the south. I’m just so lucky we were OK.”

As Serventi-Gleeson drove back to Santiago, she said, she saw collapsed houses every two or three blocks. At one point, she saw a highway split down the middle, with a two-foot gap between each side.

Serventi-Gleeson said she was worried about her friends and family back home not being able to contact her for 12 hours.

“My mom was freaking out and crying, my friends were on the phone with my family, and my sister had a hundred missed calls,” she said. “It was worse for them than it was for me.”

Saturday was also a nerve-wracking day for Yalies from Chile, as it was difficult for some students to get in touch with family members back home.

Alexandra van Nievelt ’13 said she could not reach her family in Santiago until 4 p.m. Saturday because power had been cut off in the city. Fortunately, she said, her home had been built to withstand most earthquakes.

“It was extremely stressful the entire day because you couldn’t get news of what was going on,” she said. “It makes you realize how heavily you rely on the idea that you’ll be able to get accurate information about world events.”

For van Nievelt’s family, life has almost returned to normal: Her mom has walked the family’s dogs, and her brother has gone to a sleep over, she said. But van Nievelt said she was shocked by the pictures in the media of people looting from supermarkets and cars turned over in streets.

“It is strange to associate your country and your city with catastrophes of this magnitude,” she said.

While Maria Isabel Franco ’12 knew Chile had experienced major earthquakes in its recent past, she said she was not very worried until she spoke to friends who have relatives in Concepción, Chile’s second largest city which is 70 miles from the earthquake’s epicenter. Hearing from her mother at 10 a.m. Saturday morning was a relief, she said.

The largest recorded earthquake in history, a 9.5-magnitude earthquake, struck Chile in 1960.

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