Victor Chandia is standing in front of what is left of his little yellow house. All the windows are smashed, the door is gone, part of the roof was taken off. Inside nothing is as it used to be. The once white walls are now brown and muddy, just like the floor and the stairs.
“The water came up to here,” says Victor, pointing to a black line, four metres up the wall. “I found two large fish in what used to be my bedroom, but I have lost everything I had,” he says, his eyes watering.
The 8.8 magnitude earthquake on Saturday, 27 February 2010 did not do much damage to the little village of Dichato, close to Concepción. It’s a favourite of tourists during the summer season. It was the tsunami, or rather the tsunamis, that came after the quake and destroyed everything. Five waves struck Dichato within a few hours and all of them reached about five hundred metres inland.
“It was not until the third one that rolled in that caused the most destruction,” says Victor Chandia. Now nothing is left. The houses are all either collapsed or ready to be pulled down. The streets are filled with rubble, mud, wood and whatever else the sea brought and left. The people that lived in the affected area had to move to their neighbours’ grounds, which are a little further up on a hill. Most of them camp there.
“Since last Saturday, we are all helping each other. We give each other a place to stay, we swap and borrow stuff that we need, we don’t leave each other alone in these times,” says Victor Chandia.
Further down the road Roberto Pereira cannot believe what he is seeing: “I did not know it was that bad,” he says.
Travelling down the motorway from Santiago these days, you will be overtaken by small trucks, pick ups and normal cars that have “Vamos Chile” and “Chile helps Chile” painted on them. These vehicles are filled to the roof with food, toilet paper, blankets and other things people in the tsunami areas might need.
In one of the pick ups sits Roberto Pereira. In San Fernando, some 500 km away from Concepción, he rushed to his neighbours’ houses and asked them to give him what they could spare. He loaded everything on to his truck, rushed down the motorway and handed the stuff out to the first people he met. “I will go back to my home town, load the truck again and come back,” he says.
National solidarity is a big issue these days in Chile. “When things are normal, we very much look after ourselves,” says Gabriela Gutierrez,Executive Secretary of Caritas Concepción. “But in these exceptional times we Chileans develop a special sense for the needs of others. We get mobilised and try to help each other as much as we can. This is our special strength.”
So it is no wonder that so many people came to help. In fact, everyone seems just to wait until they are called in. It only takes a few words on Facebook and dozens of volunteers show up the next day to help. One day sixty, the next day 120 young people passed by the Caritas office to lend a hand.
Dario Ferrada and Luis Zamorano are two of them. The students are wrapping up clothes and putting food into little boxes, which will be distributed later.
“We will stay here as long as Caritas wants us to do so”, says Luis Zamorano. “After all, there are still many people who need help now. And there is a lot of work waiting for us in the next weeks and months,” he adds.