Senior Stephanie Foreman was at a club listening to Justin Timberlake blare through the speakers when she began to feel the ground shake below her. At first she thought the vibration was from the people around her jumping, but soon she realized nobody was jumping as the ground began to increasingly tremble.
“A minute later I felt the floor shake left and right, rumble up and down and growl horrifically,” she wrote in an e-mail. “I knew this wasn’t normal, yet I had never experienced an earthquake before, so I was unaware of what was possible.”
Foreman is the only IU student currently stationed in Chile through the Office of Overseas Study, said Kathleen Sideli, associate vice president of Overseas Study.
Another student, Kristen Miller, is supposed to be in Valparaiso, Chile, but she’s currently on break in Costa Rica.
Miller left mid-January to travel through Peru, Ecuador, Colombia and Panama. She is supposed to fly back to Chile on March 6, but she said she highly doubts she’ll be boarding that flight.
A third IU student was supposed to leave for Valparaiso, but his trip is being postponed until the city is stable enough for him to travel.
Sideli was contacted about Foreman’s whereabouts early Saturday morning from the Council on International Educational Exchange program.
Programs usually locate their students by staff calling or phone trees in which students contact each other.
When terrorists attacked commuter trains in Madrid in 2004, Sideli had to contact students at 5 a.m. and report back to their respective universities so they could inform the students’ parents. In Foreman’s case, she contacted her parents in Champaign, Ill., at about 10 a.m. Saturday.
“I had zillions of notices on my Facebook about worried friends and family but knew that calling my parents was the most important thing on my list,” Foreman said.
IU also has students in Japan and Australia that were on alert for possible tsunamis.
“Those warnings were so widespread and universal,” Sideli said. “We knew our students were being warned by authorities and the government.”
Sideli said she’s been at IU for about 30 years, and she can’t remember the last time the program had students locally affected by an earthquake.
“Life has inherent risks to it,” she said. “We live in a time where people think of terrorists as the biggest threat, but it’s not for study abroad students. The riskiest things are car accidents, drinking and being assaulted.”
Cristian Medina, a geologist at the Indiana Geological Survey and a Chilean himself, remembers participating in tsunami drills in grade school. After hearing the sound of a bell, the school would go out of the building in order and stand in designated spots where things were less likely to fall on them. Then they’d walk to the hills.
“Everything has to be quick,” he said. “That’s why we practice.”
The rule of thumb is if you feel an earthquake and you live on the coast, you have 10 minutes to run, Medina said. And in the case of Chile’s 8.8 magnitude earthquake, there was a tsunami. The coast is filled with small towns and fishermen, Medina said, and because people are in isolated areas, many people were trapped and killed.
Waves as large as 200 meters hit the coast of Chile, including the resort town of Pelluhue, Chile, according to The Associated Press. Although street signs pointed toward tsunami evacuation route, about 20 bodies have been found and about 300 homes destroyed. However, most of the coast aligning central Chile saw the waves of the tsunami.
“They say it doesn’t matter how many sirens you have, people won’t get out until they have the concept in their head,” Medina said of the effect of tsunamis.
He said he believes the next effort to prepare for earthquakes will be tsunami awareness.
Medina, who has contacted all of his family and said they are safe, was living in Santiago in 1985 when the last big earthquake hit Chile with an 7.8 magnitude.
“You see the whole land and houses moving like in waves,” Medina said. “You can hardly stand. One of the big things is the panic. People don’t want to go in their homes or be under roofs.”
Following the 1985 earthquake in central Chile, the country revised their building codes, making the infrastructure throughout the country more able to withstand earthquakes. The building code in Chile is the best in South America, Medina said, which is why the damage isn’t as devastating as in Haiti.
The earthquake happened at 3:34 a.m. Saturday, compared to the 10:47 p.m. earthquake in 1985.
Unlike Foreman, many were asleep when the ground shook beneath them, which reduced the number of deaths. At the same time, people on the coast were sleeping and might not have heard the warning signs telling them to head for the hills.
Other factors make a difference, like the season. In Chile, it’s summer. If an earthquake hits in the winter, flooding and landslides are more likely because the ground is saturated.
Chile is supposed to receive an earthquake every 15 years because of their magnitude. Although it’s been 25 years since the last major rumble, Medina fears there will soon be a big quake in the North near where his family grew up in Arica, Chile.
“As scientists, we cannot predict this,” he said. “The only thing we know is there is a range of time. All we can do is alert authorities and have a prevention plan.”
Foreman will spend the next five months in Chile. At the moment, authorities in Santiago are telling people not to leave their homes unless it’s an absolute emergency. Although Foreman’s home has water, power, electricity, gas and access to food, she noticed many things during a run Monday, including that every gas station had a line down the street and every convenience store was crowded.
In Chile, people don’t often fill up their gas tanks, but instead put in about $2 on a daily basis to get them through. In times of crisis, people crowd gas stations because they can’t run their cars.
“It’s going to be really devastating for me to start classes next week,” Foreman said, “and pass by all the crumbled homes on my way. ... I wish there was something I could do. But I’m just an American student waiting to attend class, and I feel useless to the crisis.”