A Rising Fear :: Scenes from the Epicenter

by Michael Hanson for A Steady Drip Magazine

I was hundreds of  miles from the epicenter of the 5th largest earthquake in recorded history. In fact, nothing felt  abnormal, unless you count the fact that I was staying at 5-star resort in Torres del Paine National Park. Information  trickled in throughout the next week about the damage from not only the earthquake but tsunami as well. I was happy to  be safe, but as a photojournalist, I would have liked to be in the action. We were fortunate to get to the epicenter and see the damage a week later. Small communities throughout the coast were almost completely wiped out,  including Curanipe, a town just north of Buchupureo, our base. The following are images from the damage and the  growing hysteria of a rising sea.

Buchupureo, Chile. Farmers gather potatos in a field in Buchupureo. Within seconds of taking this image, an aftershock of 7.2 hit Rancagua, a town to the northeast. Almost immediately, people dropped their tools and fled to the hills fearing a tsunami. We were somewhat skeptical, but after radio reports did issue the 1st tsunami warning since the original quake, we too headed for higher ground.

Buchupureo, Chile. Everyone, including animals, go to the highest point and wait. The sea is patiently watched, waiting for that mysterious wave to appear and quickly move through town. The town waited. The wave never showed.

Buchupureo, Chile. Men wait and keep their eyes fixed on the small waves crashing hundreds of feet below. They felt the aftershock less than an hour ago and have seen the damage from last week’s tsunami. They’ll wait patiently.

Buchupureo, Chile. A young girl comforts her grandfather at a makeshift campfire pit at the top of the highest point outside of town. Residents of this town depend on the sea for almost everything, being lulled by it soothing presence. The younger generation never knew of its destructive power.  Now the sea is seen in a different light.

Buchupureo, Chile. Men and women build makeshift homes, knowing that the fear of the sea isn’t going away. Aftershocks could last for a long time and the growing threat of another tsunami has forced many to abandoned their homes below for simple shacks on higher ground. Perhaps the greatest legacy of this earthquake, will be the perpetual fear of a rising sea that will linger throughout new homes and long past cleanup crews.

Between Curanipe and Buchupureo, Chile. A woman watches as two men work on removing all the tiles. The roof will be rebuilt. More than food and water, residents say they are in need of building supplies. Even if they weren’t shaken to the ground, a great number of buildings will have to bulldozed due to unsafe conditions.

Between Curanipe and Buchupureo, Chile. A woman sits in her kitchen at a home in the countryside. The damage to this house was greater than one would think from the outside. This wall barely stands and will come down soon.

Curanipe, Chile. A home, damaged by the earthquake and subsequent aftershocks, catches fire and burns completely, despite the efforts of a tired and short-staffed fire crew. Homeowners stand in tears watching their home, which survived the 8.8 earthquake, burn to the ground.

Curanipe, Chile. A woman sits at her dinner table in the backyard after the tsunami destroyed her home.

Curanipe, Chile. A woman speaks with her insurance agency after visiting her home one morning to find that looters had robbed her of what little remained. The wheels on her car were the latest possession stolen. In many areas of the country, Chileans took advantage of the chaos by looting residences and businesses. Reports from Conception, the 2nd largest city and scene of immense damage, said that groups of Chileans were running through the streets with not only essentials (water, food, clothing) but plasma screen TVs, computers, speakers, etc. In some areas, authorities allowed looting for items crucial for survival. HD DVD players are not crucial.

Buchupureo, Chile. A woman begins the cleanup process of a home leveled by the 8.8 earthquake. It will take months.

A number of organizations are working on the front lines. Savethewaves.org has had a presence in the area for a while and is doing a great job of providing support throughout the communities along the coast.

Our friends, Chris and Dayna and their two kids, were less than a mile from the epicenter. They watched from a hilltop, as two waves formed, one moved north, and one moved south. Their hotel became a community base camp the following week, providing food, transportation, etc. to their neighbors. This community depends on tourism. If you like the beach, good surf, amazingly fresh food, nice people, a sweet hotel, and a relaxing vacation, then La Joya del Mar in Buchupureo, Chile, is the spot. And you’ll be helping a rocked community, anxious to get back on its feet.

note :: a steady drip is an new form of distributing content started by a close friend, Andrew Kornylak. Check it out – a steady drip

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