Chile: A glimmer of hope one year after the earthquake

Monday, March 07, 2011

  • IMG_1449.jpgPastor Oscar Sanhueza in a camp for people who lost their houses in the earthquake last year.
  • IMG_1450.jpgA young girl in a camp for people who lost their houses in the earthquake last year.
  • IMG_1455.jpgTemporary wooden shelters in a camp set up for people who lost their homes in the earthquake in Chile last year.
  • IMG_1510.jpgSome houses were rebuilt where they collapsed.
  • IMG_1512.jpgMany new houses were erected using panels as this made the construction much faster.
  • IMG_1513.jpgNew houses built to replace houses destroyed by the earthquake.
  • IMG_1519.jpgInside a new timber house provided by ACT.

By Rainer Lang

It’s Friday night. Maria Leyton is looking forward to a get-together the next day. After the strong earthquake that hit the country at the end of February 2010 Chile’s Evangelical Lutheran Church has set up a regular exchange between all the affected from the habor district in Concepcion. The houses there are small, giving a crouched impression; the people who live in them are poor. The quake-triggered tsunami has destroyed this quarter. Thus the global church network ACT Alliance, which the Lutheran Church and Diakonie Emergency Aid is part of, has provided new houses for the worst hit.

Last year in Chile there was one of the biggest earthquakes ever in modern times with a strength of 8.8 on the richter scale. It happended end of February 2010. About 600 people died, two million peple were affected and half a million houses destroyed and affected. It was the fifth strongest earthquake ever measured since seismological recording started in 1900. In the wake of the earth quake in Haiti the Chile earthquake was quickly forgotten, because there were not many casualities. Also the Chilean government sent after the catastrophe the message to the world that Chile as a prosperous nation could deal with it alone.

The disaster revealed the social rift in the society and the poor social security system. It is „silent earthquake“. But only some hundred people died. That is because Chile has learned from the disasters before and has installed construction rules. The buildingx – in contrast to Haiti - did not collapse. People could escape. But now nobody seems to be responsible to demolish the ruins.

Under the motto “Sharing the Table” around 80 families from the badly hit quarter meet every Saturday morning at the suggestion of the Lutheran Church in order to talk about their worries and problems and to think about mutual assistance. Maria Isabel Castillo Moreno says: “It’s mostly women that come with their children”.

The social worker for the Lutheran Church, Vasquez Castillo, emphasizes that as a result the role of women in a society traditionally dominated by men is also changing.

One of the most committed women is Maria Leyton. The 54-year-old single mother of three kids says that she would not have got along after the earthquake and the tsunami without the support from the Lutherans and ACT Alliance.

She tells: “We were wading through very deep mud and debris, which had been swept in our quarter by the flood wave.” The 18-year-old daughter Tiare Salazar Leyton adds: „Our house was completely destroyed.” As one of the worst hit Maria is happy that she has got one of the provisional houses from ACT Alliance. They are made up of a solid timber structure and can be expanded to a permanent home.

Provisional arrangements are a bitter reality for many people in this residential area: Almost a year after the earthquake a quarter of the more than 1000 people there still live in emergency shelters. There is neither running water nor electricity. Pastor Oscar Sanhueza emphasizes that thanks to ACT more than 100 families have got a house and psycho-social assistance.