Chilean earthquake shakes former NWC student's world

Posted 3/4/10

Yorke had gone to visit her mother and to pick up some things there on Friday.

“It was late, so I decided to stay,” she said. “I was sleeping upstairs when everything started ... I felt how the house started moving, but here in …

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Chilean earthquake shakes former NWC student's world


{gallery}03_02_10/earthquake{/gallery}A woman carries goods while looting a supermarket in Concepcion, Chile, Sunday, Feb. 28. An 8.8-magnitude earthquake hit Chile early Saturday. A former Northwest College student who lives south of Concepcion was affected by the earthquake and had her house broken into early Monday morning. AP photo/ Natacha Pisarenko Since fleeing her bed during an earthquake early Saturday morning in Valparaíso, Chilé, former Northwest College student Sara Yorke has had little sleep. But she has found comfort in the support she feels from her friends in Powell.Valparaíso is a coastal town approximately 250 miles north of Concepcion, the city that was damaged most heavily in the massive 8.8 quake.

Yorke had gone to visit her mother and to pick up some things there on Friday.

“It was late, so I decided to stay,” she said. “I was sleeping upstairs when everything started ... I felt how the house started moving, but here in Chile, we are used to little earthquakes, because we have that all the time.

“But seconds started running and it wasn't stopping at all — on the contrary, it was turning stronger and stronger, so I got up very quickly and woke up my sisters, screaming their names, and then I just reacted and screamed, ‘DOWNSTAIRS, NOW!'

“I don't know how, but we were in the living room in seconds, and my mom was already at the main door, ready to escape. She was so scared, she didn't even call my sisters. She just ran out.”

Yorke said she jokingly told her mother later that she was losing her maternal instinct.

Her mother's reply: “Well, that's why God sent you to be here.”

Yorke said the earthquake lasted more than three terrifying minutes.

“After it was finished ... we didn't have any electricity, so we started trying to calm down and organize us, finding some flashlights and gathering water immediately because we didn't know how the situation was going to be in the next hours/days.

“We also tried to call our families and friends, but cell phones were our only chance, and they were dead.

“It was really a hard night, but better than in other places, at least. Of course, we couldn't sleep for the rest of the night, and the only radio station we could hear was from Argentina, so we were informed first about what happened there than in our own country. They (felt) the earthquake, too, but less hard than in Chilé.”

Though 250 miles from the epicenter, the quake was very strong in Valparaíso, Yorke said.

“Some buildings have their walls completely broken, and also some houses collapsed, too.

“People are sleeping on the streets or inside improvised tents; they are afraid of going inside of their houses, because they are about to fall completely.

“In the central parts of different cities, there is chaos everywhere. But on the countryside, people help one another and share their supplies ... We lost electricity just for some hours after the quake. We have water in this part of the region, but we have been informed that it will be suspended for some days this week in order to fix some things in the city.”

On a friend's Facebook page, Yorke wrote, “The general situation is chaotic but I am safe here, locked inside my mom's home, watching the devastating news.

We are lucky to have water and electricity this far, but our neighbors don't, so we are trying to help them with all these basic stuff, like blankets and food ... Wow, I hope all this ends up soon.”

In her e-mail Sunday night, Yorke said she felt relatively safe, though she, her mother and her sisters remained locked in their house as a protection from thieves.

“(People) don't want to leave (their places) because there are thieves everywhere trying to take advantage of the situation,” she said.

That concern became a frightening reality in the early hours of Monday morning.

“Someone entered our backyard and tried to enter my house by the back door that is in the laundry room of the house,” she said.

Yorke was in the next room and heard the man trying to get in.

“I was scared to dead — when the guy couldn't open the door, he opened the window of the room I was working in. The lights were obviously on; thieves just don't care if you are at home, they just enter the place and do whatever they want.

“I just screamed, ‘WHO IS THIS?'... and the guy ran away. I just saw his silhouette. Then I closed the window and went to my mom's bedroom to wake her up, but she was already awake because she heard the guy running on the backyard.

“I just hate delinquents that try to take advantage of the situation, because decent people don't do that.

“We have a lot of neighbors that don't have water, food or even clothes, because they lost everything in the earthquake. But they ask for those things they need, and nobody denies all these basic things.

“But these other people that try to enter places to steal are just delinquents. We checked some things we had on the garage, but apparently he didn't take anything; maybe he couldn't because he just escaped when he saw we were awake.”

Beyond more uncertainty in the days and nights to come, Yorke said she doesn't know what to expect, or how the quake will affect her life.

After returning to Chilé from Powell in December, she enrolled as a student at Playa Ancha University in Valparaiso.

“Right now we are on summer break,” she said. “Classes should start about March 16, but we don't know if there is any change this far due to the circumstances. I guess I will know that (in) following days.”

Yorke thanked all those people who had expressed concern via Facebook about her safety and that of other former NWC students and their families.

“Thank you for all your concern and the good energy you and everyone there is sending us here,” she said.

Harriet Boom-Wilson, director of international academic programs at Northwest College, said Facebook has provided a tremendous resource to help current and former students from Chile locate family members and friends.

“Most of our students here now have heard from their families,” she said, “but there's at least one who's still waiting to hear about his brother, and he's very, very concerned.”

That brother was in the affected area when the quake hit, she said.

The time since the quake struck on Saturday has been tense for all those students, Bloom-Wilson said.

“But what they're agreeing is absolutely remarkable is Facebook.