Life in Concepcion has virtually returned to normal, even though an occasional replica reminds us that the earth is not quite comfortable with its adjustments. Post traumatic stress still has everyone a little jittery, but barring any disruptions from our new four-legged family member, we have finally learned to sleep through the night.
Visual examples of the aftermath, such as the Edificio O’Higgins, stand as testament to the reality of the earthquake, which seems less and less real as time goes on. One floor of the O’Higgins building had completely collapsed, causing the upper floors to lean like a parking ramp. The city block around the building has been closed to traffic while investigators determine whether it, as well as countless other severely damaged high rise office and apartment buildings around the city, may be salvaged.
The now world-recognized Alto Rio also continues to lie on its back, however many of the lower floors have been demolished and removed. Stories about its victims are still circulating. I recently heard that the last victim found was that of a man who had attended a party, but was too drunk to walk, and friends had left him behind in the stairwell. His body was later found decapitated.
Although ready to move past our earthquake experiences, and I may yet write about one small pueblo’s endeavors to recover from the devastation, there is still a compelling need to post some final photos and comments. The photo on the left shows just how precarious life can be, how even the simplest of choices, such as which side of the room to sleep on, can have life altering impact.
For one couple, their decision of which wall to place the bed dramatically affected their experience of the earthquake. Imagine being sound asleep, at 3:30 in the morning, to not only be awakened by violent shaking, but to also find your head suddenly exposed to the elements. It seems miraculous that the bed wasn’t shaken off its precarious perch.
While camping on the banks of Lago Lleu Lleu, Sergio and I had changed our minds regarding where to locate the tent. Had we camped closer to the lake, I sure that we would have been swept into the water when the lake’s basin violently tipped back and forth. Another couple from the university had also been camping in a different region that same time. According to their circulating story, the husband had exited the tent to observe what was happening during the quake. He reached back in to help his wife out just moments before the ground opened up to swallow the tent and close back up again. It’s just another example of how one simple gesture and decision can be so pivotal.
Although some of our favorite restaurants, such as Stromboli, which was famous for it’s one kilo humitas, is a pile of rubble, and Mavel Real, my favorite for fine dining, has yet to reopen, we are learning to reshape our dining habits. New businesses are springing up everywhere. Just today, we came across a “make-Amelda-drool” shoe store, on the downtown square, that just opened three weeks ago. We also wasted an hour, walking down Freire, dodging hanging wires, crumbled bricks and broken sidewalks, looking for a piano store that probably stood where what is now a vacant lot. It seems that that will be life in Concepcion for awhile.
Many businesses housed in older areas of the city, such as those dating from the 1930s and prior, have been forced to close due to extreme structural damage. Given that there are no insurances, outside of mortgage insurance, there are few resources for financing, beyond having to pull oneself up by one’s own bootstraps. Unfortunately, what wasn’t destroyed during the quake was stolen in the mob panic aftermath.
There’s been a lot of discussion regarding the mass robberies that occurred during the days prior to martial law. Sentiments range from complete revulsion and anger to understanding and sympathy. The unfortunate timing of the earthquake left many families without financial resources. In Chile, most employees are paid on a monthly basis, at the beginning of the month. Working poor families, which constitutes a sizable percentage of the population, live a hand-to-mouth existence, and were the least likely to have a stocked pantry or money in the wallet. While I do not condone any of the criminal actions taken, and believe that we must always strive to preserve our human integrity, I can understand the panic that some may have felt to be caught without food to put on the table. Although, I had taken many photos of people absconding with items, loaded grocery carts and anything else that could be dragged away, I am electing to not publish such photos. It is not for me to judge the actions of others.
For myself, one of the saddest parts of the destruction is that so many beautiful old buildings are gone. I had always intended to walk the city, capturing shots of my favorite architectural features, but always thought that there would be time. Alas, I had forgotten to never put anything on hold in life.