Chile quake causes ripples of anxiety in Grand Valley
Cheryl Ferguson was rising from bed Saturday morning when her son, Brent, phoned from Pennsylvania with the startling news about the earthquake in Chile.
The Grand Junction woman’s son and daughter-in-law, Tadd and Gisela Ferguson, had been visiting Chile for a month and were preparing to return to the Grand Valley when one of the largest temblors recorded in modern history struck near Gisela’s hometown.
“I was petrified at that point,” Cheryl Ferguson said.
It would be another three hours before she heard from Gisela’s mother that the couple and their two boys, 5-year-old Liam and 3-year-old Rowan, were safe.
Grand Valley residents, like Ferguson, were still breathing sighs of relief Monday upon learning family and friends in the South American country had survived the 8.8-magnitude quake that has killed more than 700 people. Others, however, were awaiting word on the fate of people close to them.
The Fergusons left Grand Junction for Chile on Jan. 24 and were in Concepcion, the country’s second-largest metropolitan area about 70 miles from the earthquake’s epicenter, a few weeks before the quake struck, Cheryl Ferguson said. The family was in southern Chile and preparing to return to Concepcion when the quake hit.
Tadd is an emergency-room
physician at St. Mary’s Hospital. Gisela is an instructor with Hilltop Community Resources’ Proyectal Portal program, which teaches Spanish and offers guided service-learning trips to Mexico. Gisela lived most of her life in Concepcion before meeting Tadd and moving to Colorado. All of her relatives remain in Concepcion and survived the quake, Cheryl Ferguson said.
Unable to get back into Concepcion, Tadd and Gisela and their sons are now driving north in their truck to the capital city of Santiago in hopes of catching a flight back to the U.S. on Friday.
Ferguson said she will check daily with American Airlines to see if the flight is still available.
“We just hope they’ll be able to get home soon,” she said.
Lory Pounder heard through the grapevine that her host family is OK, but still hadn’t spoken with them personally.
The case manager with Latimer House spent seven months in 2008 teaching English in the town of Angol, which is about an hour and a half away from Concepcion.
“My family was just awesome,” Pounder said. “They’re so warm and welcoming. When I got down there, I could barely speak any Spanish. It didn’t matter to them. They just took me right into their home.”
She said she spent a weekend in Concepcion, and the city frequently experiences tremors, some of which she felt.
She also noted that Chile is in its summer season, which exacerbates the lack of electricity, water and food.
As devastating as the earthquake in Chile is, the situation there is “infinitely better” than in Haiti, said David Hintch, executive director of the Western Colorado Chapter of the American Red Cross.
That’s because, as a more developed country and one accustomed to earthquakes, Chile’s buildings are more soundly constructed than in Haiti, enabling them to better withstand temblors.
The country is also better positioned in terms of available emergency responders, doctors and other forms of infrastructure, Hintch said.
He said the Red Cross made an initial donation to Chile for $50,000 and offered access to various supplies in Panama. He said the agency also dispatched disaster teams to help the Chilean government assess the damage.
Hintch said as of now, the Red Cross isn’t taking donations specifically for Chile.
He said any money donated for earthquake relief will go to the agency’s International Response Fund, the source of the $50,000 given thus far to the country.
He noted, though, that that could change in a day or two, depending upon the degree of destruction and need.
Hintch said the Red Cross was in the process of building back up its International Response Fund, which was depleted by the Haiti earthquakes, when the earth shook in Chile.
“The problem now is with these big disasters, if something happens and we’re not built up again, yeah, it’s going to be trouble,” he said.