Institute for Study Abroad - Butler University

IFSA-Butler student recounts Chile Earthquake

Hixon Spangenberg III, of Sandyston, a 2008 graduate of Kittatinny Regional High School, and currently a sophomore at the University of Vermont, left Feb. 21 to study abroad for five months at the Universidad Adolfo Ibanez in Santiago, Chile.

The study abroad program was made possible through the Institute for Study Abroad — Butler University, in Indianapolis, Ind.Spangenberg is residing with his host family in Las Condes, Santiago.

Here is his account of the earthquake in Chile as he experienced it:

February 27, 2010 (5:15 a.m.): About 3:30 a.m., I had just shut off my computer, taken off my glasses and thrown the covers over my shoulders when I felt this slight rumble. That first millisecond, I thought it was the rumble of a large truck going by; however, within another few milliseconds, this rumble became a roar and the building began to sway. I heard the creaking and rumbling. I couldn’t stop the shaking that was taking over my body — my (host) family had woken up at this moment and
I heard commotion in the next room and in the hallway. The rumble and swaying continued to strengthen and I heard screams, things falling, and the building rumbling. I wasn’t fully processing what was occurring and I remember asking “¿que es eso, que es eso? (what is this, what is this?)” I heard Jose Miguel (my host brother) from either his room or the hallway respond, “Es un terremonto (It’s an earthquake).”

Things inside the apartment were falling, crashing, breaking and creaking. The sway was very intense. I shimmied my way out of bed. Not being able to see, I stumbled my way toward the door. In the hallway, I heard Maggie (my host mother) start screaming along with Jose Miguel’s girlfriend. I can’t remember if I braced myself in the hallway, but I do remember the violent swaying and rumble (a rumble much like a train rumbling through or a low-flying plane — except much more intense). Items in the living room and hallway near the front door were crashing down around us.

At this moment, I thought that this was it — the building was going to crumble around us. The sound and waves of shaking were that strong.

Suddenly, it all stopped.


By now I had known full well that it was an earthquake, and a powerful one at that. Jose Miguel’s girlfriend held her ears throughout it all (the sound, I assume, was that frightening to her). Things were all over the dining room and the hallway floors; Maggie had cut the bottom of her foot on some shattered glass. As a whole though, we were all fine; just shaken. The walls and windows were still intact in our apartment, but the electricity was not functioning. The toilets began to take on water, too. As the intensity of the quake began to register in our minds, I remember Jose Miguel telling me that he had never felt a “temblor” this strong. Maggie added that this earthquake was “muy fuerte (very strong).” Maggie instructed me to get dressed. In returning to my room, I couldn’t tell whether it was intact, but I could feel with my feet that some of my belongings were on the floor. Returning to the living room, we heard loud noises outside. Going out onto the balcony and looking down, we could see many startled Santiagoians out on the street. All surrounding buildings were dark except for emergency lights. Within a minute or two, there was an outpouring of cars onto Avenida Cristobal Colon. They were fleeing the city to check on relatives, according to Maggie. From my perspective, I couldn’t see any substantial destruction, but Jose Miguel, returning to the apartment from the street, told us that it had be an “ocho” — eight on the Richter Scale.

I grabbed my laptop, my passport, money, camera, and shoved it all into my backpack. Putting on
my shoes, I was out the door within a few seconds. I saw our neighbor — she was clearly startled — crying and shaking. Her apartment looked to be in shambles and shattered glass was all over her floor. We decided to stand in the street with the rest of the nervous residents of Las Condes. By now it was 10 or 15 minutes after the earthquake; there was a steady stream of cars all heading in the same direction — out of the city. We stood out on the street for nearly an hour; many people were in their pajamas. Women were holding their children; many other people were just bundled in blankets. Jose Miguel told me that the epicenter was south of Santiago, near Concepción, Bio-Bio, and an area near Linares.

Our only form of communication was the radio. Hardly anyone could use their cell phones — either the towers were down or everyone was using them at the same time. Everyone in the street was clearly shaken. After a while though, when we felt the chance of aftershocks had dissipated, we returned to the apartment. Some of the doors in the building were jammed or bent, but ours and others were
fine. Maggie, during this process had somehow gotten in contact with Isabel (the IFSA-Butler resident director) to tell her that we were all all right. I’m sure someone will be contacting my mother. I wonder, though, whether she knows that we had a massive earthquake here. It was about 1:30 a.m. in New Jersey when this occurred. I don’t know the status of the other study-abroad students, but I assume they are in no worse state than I.

Presently we are sitting in the living room. I’m typing away while Maggie, her son, his girlfriend, his girlfriend’s sister, and the shaken neighbor are talking around a candle. They were joking with me that this is my welcome present to Chile. It seems that now we have all relaxed.

It’s 5:40 a.m., just over two hours after the shaking began. The landline phones arenow working, but the electricity is still out. Using Jose Miguel’s cell phone, we are listening to the radio. I cannot understand what is being said, but by the looks on their faces it seems serious. President
Michelle Bachelet is speaking.

Cars are still pouring out of the city and the news from the south is still limited. Communication with
individuals outside of Santiago appears absolutely impossible. I am getting tired, having not gotten even one minute of sleep. My computer battery is low and I will not be able to write much longer.
What a way to ring in my first weekend in Chile. Maggie told me that I won’t be going to Valparaiso today or to Vina tomorrow with other IFSA-Butler program students, but this is the least of my concerns.

We are trying to remember how long it lasted. It felt like at least a minute, but it could have been less. Hopefully there are no aftershocks. This apartment is in an earthquake-proof building. I cannot imagine what it is like for others in non-modern housing.

I will never forget this.

It’s now 6:30 a.m., the power has returned. The Internet is not working, but we now have the TV to watch. President Bachelet is speaking, and according to her, the earthquake was 8.8 magnitude, centered in Concepción — only 4 to 5 hours south of here. We are still unable to get in contact with Maggie’s family in the south.

It’s nearly 7 a.m., and the sun is rising over Santiago. We are all glued to the TV—CNN en ESPANOL. I want to post something on Facebook to let everyone know I am all right. There are still no images out of the south; however, video out of Valparaiso (75 miles away from here), where I was supposed to go later today, shows that they have suffered some damage. President Bachelet just said that Chile, or at least central-southern Chile is in estado de catastrofe (state of emergency/catastrophe). Life here in Chile seems to have come to a complete stop. Looking out the window here though, there doesn’t seem to be any structural damage. The streets are completely silent as the sun rises. Enough for now, I need to rest.

About 8 p.m. — The phone lines here in Santiago are inoperable. The power continues to go in and out with each aftershock. We have felt at least five aftershocks, but the news here said there has
been nearly 30 in Chile. Around 5 p.m. this afternoon, there was a particularly strong one, the TV flickered and we all considered heading for the door frame, however it lasted no more than 10 seconds. The news here said that particular aftershock had be 5.5 on the Richter scale. We left the apartment to explore the surrounding neighborhood this afternoon. Luckily these buildings, here in Las Condes — the wealthiest neighborhood in Santiago — were built to withstand “los tremblores” so
there is no clear structural damage. However, once we left this section of Santiago, the destruction became clear. In Providencia, only a few blocks from my apartment, a portion of a church’s facade had
collapsed. The lines at the supermarket up the street are extensive and there are few essentials left.
In the apartment, we have my family and a number of friends and relatives who have taken refuge.

As I am writing this, I feel another minor quake. I cannot imagine how the rest of city is coping with this disaster.

Read the story online here.

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Comment by Michelle Tolan on May 19, 2010 at 1:07pm
Mil gracias a los padres de Hixon (thanks to Hixon's parents) for sending this to us.

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