Saturday, March 12, 2011

Evacuations in Iquique

Not until I began writing this post did I realize it was exactly one year ago that a tsunami warning evacuated all the schools in Iquique. Little did we realize we were preparing for a similar event, but on a much larger scale, to take place a year later. These have been interesting hours for our city. On a personal level I wouldn't go so far as to say frightening (though we have seen frightened people around us) and for that we thank the Lord for His peace and protection.

evacuation plan for the city of Iquique

We first heard of the events in Japan at 4 a.m. Friday morning, March 11. Pedro had been awakened from a dead sleep by yet another horrifying crash and hurried outside to find a car flipped over on the main street just meters from our house. Another neighbor who was awakened by the accident spoke to him on the street and asked if Pedro had heard about the earthquake and tsunami in Japan.

3D image of the Iquique coastline

The crash knocked out our power for several hours, so it was still dark when I stumbled down three flights of stairs to answer my cell phone at 7 a.m. A friend from church was calling to inform me that because of the situation in Japan there was an alert for Iquique, and she wouldn't be sending her son to school. Pedro and I discussed whether to have our kids go or not, but since the school is only five minutes away and the alert was for late that night, we decided to send them. Isabel even assured me, "Don't worry, Mom, we practice this all the time!" (Later Isabel told us that of 27 kids in her class only 9 attended; and Eva said that by the end of the day, only 3 students remained in her class!)

signs we see every day in Iquique and take for granted

As I already had planned to hit the grocery store that day in preparation for lunch guests on Saturday, it seemed like a good idea to get there just as the doors opened. The parking lot was half full, which is unusual for that time of day, but doable (or so I thought!) Shoppers were heading straight to the bottled water and canned goods sections, then off to the meats and cheeses. It was especially impressive to watch the pallets of bottled water constantly coming and going. Many people were holding hushed conversations on their cell phones and more than once I heard the assurance, "Tranquilo, tranquilo" ("Calm, calm.") There was a serious air about the supermarket.

I was focused on my shopping and didn't realize how full the store had become until it was time to check out with my groceries. Suddenly I realized that customer lines were snaking from the counters back down into the aisles, as if it were the holidays. I spent an entire hour in line. The time which would otherwise have been wasted was salvaged by getting to know the woman in front of me who, as it turned out, also has two students at my kids' school and one daughter is even a classmate of Owen's! This "divine appointment" was encouraging and I hope to get to know Daniela better throughout the year.

residents of Iquique who evacuated to higher ground last night

The streets were almost eerily quiet throughout most of the day and we kept close to home once the children returned from school. Our friend Martha came to help us around the house and we offered for her to spend the night. She readily accepted, as she was fearful of being home alone with all that was happening. As the afternoon wound down we learned that evacuations of the low-lying areas of the city would go into effect by 9 p.m. In our neighborhood, vehicles passed by regularly making announcements via loudspeaker urging residents to move above Avenida Bilbao (this is the road just meters from our house where all the accidents occur.)

Fortunately we had already planned a movie and popcorn night for our kids, so they were happily oblivious to any uncertainty lingering in the air. We did share a little about what was happening when we had them dress for bed with long pants and shoes within reach, just in case. All five shared a room since we had a houseguest and that worked out well for them to feel snug and safe. I packed a basket with diapers, wipes and sweaters, again just in case.

guards were in place in front of grocery stores and malls in Iquique

We kept in regular phone contact with our missionary colleagues and church friends, and it was encouraging to even receive several unexpected calls from others outside Iquique who were concerned for our welfare. The plan was for either Pedro or I (or both) to stay up as long as it took for an "all clear" report but we were just too tired! Once it appeared that the Chilean city of Arica to the north of us had received no major wave activity we felt it was safe to go to sleep and we headed to bed shortly after midnight. We heard nothing from that point on, but today Martha told us she was awakened by activity outside the house in the early AM hours and she saw people descending the mountain with knapsacks, bags, etc.

The ocean appeared calm to us Saturday morning and the sunshine was cheery and bright. As I started my day, the words to the hymn "Praise to the Lord, the Almighty, the King of Creation! Oh my soul, praise Him, for He is thy help and salvation!" ran through my mind. My heart remains grateful for the Lord's goodness and care in our lives, yet heavy for those in Japan who face the aftermath of such devastation.

Pedro headed to church for men's prayer breakfast in the morning on clear roads but was blocked from returning via his usual route because the main highway along the beach was closed once again and grocery stores were being evacuated. We then learned that the alert had been lifted for most of Chile but remained in effect for Iquique. So once again it was a quiet day at home, although we did host our guests as planned and had an enjoyable visit together. By evening the streets were bustling in normal fashion and one of our neighbors even seemed to celebrate the release of tension with a rip-roaring house party.

This is Iquique, after all. :)


sea salt MOSAIC said...

praise God for His protection in your lives, home, friends and community.

StacyandChad said...

I'm so glad to see this post! I thought of you and your family when the tsunami warnings were issued for the US.