We forward to you the news we received from Chile, where the Daughters of St. Paul are present in Santiago, Concepcion, Valparaiso, and Antofagasta. Let us unite ourselves in solidarity and prayer with the suffering of this people so tried, both by earthquake and by Tsunami.
Because of electricity failure and the interruption of telephone and even cell phone transmissions, we were not able to contact you until now.
The news that the print and TV media have been giving is very close to the reality. However, we still do not know the extent of the disaster caused by the earthquake and the ensuing tsunami because at present it is impossible to reach many areas that were damaged by the quake on our immense Chilean Pacific coast. In some areas, as Easter Island and San Juan Fernandez, the waves reached 170 feet inland. At present the number of confirmed dead has reached over 700, but the number will increase due to the intense tidal surges that Regions 7 and 8 were subjected to. In this time of the year, these areas are the site of numerous tourist destinations. The number of displaced people is incalculable.
Air travel is suspended, as is also public transportation. The supermarkets are closed because of looting. There are no fires reported. In some cities, electricity remains cut off due to fallen wires and to avoid fires.
There is no explanation as to why the government is so slow to respond, or why there is such bureaucratic sluggishness to come to the aid of the people. And no one explained why the army took so long to come to the aid of the police, who were overwhelmed in facing this humanitarian disaster. Everything is going ahead very slowly.
This earthquake is one of the strongest of the past fifty years. Fear was great for the sisters who have already experienced earthquakes before, and for those who had never experienced one. It lasted three interminable minutes, with the house shifting dangerously. It was an unbelievable experience, and it remains difficult to regain a bit of emotional equilibrium.
The majority of the elder sisters live in Santiago, and they have all experienced earthquakes before. But to the fear it generated was added the preoccupation for their relatives, whom they cannot reach due to interruption of telephone lines. Many of the sisters are from the areas most affected by the quake. Two sisters are on vacation at home there, and we have still not yet been able to contact one of them.
We pray much together, and there is much dialogue and mutual support among us. The aftershocks follow one another at roughly ten minute intervals, and because of this we live in constant tension. Yesterday, there were more than a hundred. And we expect this situation to last for at least two months.
We are in the hands of the Lord. Thank you for your prayers and remember us.
Sr. Iris L. Pontin, fsp
Delegate Superior of Chile