By Andreas Lexer, Caritas Communications Officer in Chile
“This region is the poorest one in the country“, says Jorge Brito, Executive Director of Caritas Maule. “And it is also the most affected one!” More than 400 people died here, more than in any other region in Chile.
Some one million people live in Maule, more than 20 percent are regarded poor, compared to the 15 percent average in the rest of the country.
This is the reason why so many houses here were build with cheap Adobe instead of wood or bricks. Most of the Adobe houses could not stand the 8.8 magnitude earthquake on February 27th and the majority of these buildings collapsed. Many of them made up the historic city centre of Talca, the regions capital, and others were in smaller villages on the countryside and in the mountains.
“We estimate that about 20.000 houses are down in the region, but this number might even rise to 30.000”, says Jorge Brito. More than 150.000 houses are badly damaged, nobody can live in them anymore, like the parts of the Caritas building in Talca, where Jorge Brito is still sitting and coordinating the emergency relief. These houses will be pulled down.
In front of the Caritas office young volunteers – at last 60 of them show up every day to lend a hand – are rolling out black plastic and cutting it into ten metres long tarpaulins. “This is, what people are asking us most about at the moment”, says Jorge Brito.
At first it was clothes, because the earthquake struck in the middle of the night and people stood on the streets in their pyjamas or completely naked. Then it was food. Some 30,000 to 40,000 food kits from Santiago were already delivered to the people by Caritas. Now it is tarps, to protect tents and shelters from the rain that is forecast for next week.
Carolina Trancoso, a 26 year old Caritas staff member, is delivering tarpulins together with some food and hygiene kits to a makeshift shelter in a sports club in Talca. About 130 people, many from the neighbouring red light district, but also a lot of families with children, the elderly and the disabled are staying here.
At least the sports club has got a roof that is intact, but it is mostly open to the sides. About two dozen tents stand here, and in between them are mattresses where people sleep out in the open. Ricardo Salgado, 48, has just received his first food kit for his wife and two children.
“The situation is generally bad, we really do not know where to go now. But the food and the tarps help us for now”, he says.
Where the earthquake did not do any damage, the tsunamis did.
The Maule region spreads out to the coast. Many of the smaller villages and larger towns are completely destroyed, such as Constitución, with 30,000 residents. This small city and tourist resort was hit hard by three waves that rolled in as far as the city centre. “We woke up when we felt the quake and we knew we had to run immediately”, says Jasmin Salas, who is digging out one of her lipsticks and a bra from under half a metre of mud that covers the floor of what used to be her room in a little house near the beach.
However, in Constitución there were many people that did not know that after a quake like this they should better run. A number of tourists were camping on a little island just off the shore. Traditionally they were waiting for the next morning to celebrate the city’s anniversary.
They were unprepared when the waves struck. They were tourists, nobody knows the exact number. Many of them are still missing.