Our neighbors are animal lovers to an extreme, and it was their teenaged daughter Camila who immediately approached us full of apologies for having failed to stop our dog from running away when the door to the back patio opened (from the force of the quake.) She refused to take no for an answer as she repeatedly offered to take her family's lantern into the darkness of our neighborhood in search of our small pet. Meanwhile our daughter was wailing its loss and all I wanted was to keep our family together and safe, but finally I relented and let Camila, Pedro and our daughter go in search of Whittaker. Over and over I peered down the dark street, willing them to quickly return.
There was much movement and noise around us, as the tsunami sirens wailed while families and their pets hurried up the mountain of sand in front of our house to the "safe zone." The ground continued shaking. Cars honked, sirens rang out, helicopters buzzed loudly overhead, and people everywhere tried to contact loved ones on cell phones.
My boys still sat quietly in the back seat of the car. One complained of a aching stomach, another of an urgent need to go potty. Our house had lost not only power but water in the quake, yet we had stockpiled many gallons of tap water for such a time as this. We weren't sure of the damage inside or if the shaking would start again while we were upstairs in the bathroom, but need overruled fear.
"What if we die?" my oldest son asked. His little brothers, wired on adrenaline, eagerly spouted Sunday School answers about Heaven and Jesus. But when asked, "Have you ever asked Jesus to be your Savior?" they both honestly said no. "Is that something you want to do?" resulted in awkward glances and, "Uh ... I don't know!" Obviously no matter the crisis, they still weren't quite ready in their understanding.
Finally, the search trio returned - not empty-handed, yet it was not Whittaker in our daughter's arms, but a collared cat. She tried earnestly to retain it, but soon learned just how wild an animal becomes with fear and could understand how our dog had run away when the cat fled, too. Instead she kept her hamster close in its travel cage and huddled with her siblings in the comforting light of the open car.
We set up lawn chairs in front of the house and settled in for what would be a long night of waiting. Suddenly we heard a voice calling from the hill about us, "Tia Stephanie!" I recognized the voice but couldn't place it, until we saw Solange and her two children lowering themselves carefully down the slippery sand. It was so encouraging to see the familiar faces of our close friends from church. They stayed with us through that first night. At some point, Solange, my daughter and I walked back to her house for her battery-operated radio and additional cell phones. She lives on a gated street and it was eerie to see it so still and quiet. Only her neighbors were home, packing up their car for a required evacuation to the military safe zone (since the husband is a military doctor.)
Before night's end, Pedro headed out for another search for Whittaker with our daughter and this time it was successful. I credit this solely to the Lord's love and mercy on our children, considering the circumstances! With dog in hand and having rounded up as many quilts and blankets as we could find, it was decided that our kids and Solange's bunk in our two cars. Both could fold down the third row and actually made for a semi-comfortable resting place. Eventually Pedro headed to the couch with one child, and Solange and I joined the others in the vehicles.
|snuggled in for a good night's sleep in the back of our vehicle|
Around 6 a.m., the tsunami loudspeaker finally squawked permission to return to our homes. Tired and still slightly stunned, we said goodbye to our friends as they headed down the street. Soon they were replaced by neighbor children from down the street who had come to life after their own long night. My husband left to the aid of a friend and church member who had evacuated the local clinic (barefoot and just recovering from surgery that day!) who needed a ride to seek follow-up medical attention. I rounded up cereal boxes and bowls to serve our kids and any others in sight. Little did I know that providing a place to eat would become our "ministry" for days to come!