Thursday, March 11, 2010

Tsunami Evacuation

I didn't think I'd have to post about seismic activity anymore, and I also told Lucie I'd try not to post about my experience with breaucracy this morning. But its not gonna go down as I thought afterall.

This morning I took an administrative day. First I woke up early and waited outside the Intendencia to go to Extranjeria. Though there were other people going there as well, I was the first to make it into the office when they opened at 9. And by "opened" I mean I apparently snuck in before they shut the doors and had a 45 minute staff meeting as everyone else waited trapped outside. After a few minutes some jote intern that skipped the meeting came over and started hitting on me, asking me to tell him about myself and such. He did tell me that the Intendencia is set on large wheels below gound level that help it safely move during seismic activity, which must feel terrifying on floor 15! Eventually the meeting ended and all the employees came out and made fun of the weon hitting on me. I was called in and I came out to see the room FULL of other foreigners, including two friends. Then, I had to do various other beaucratic things that went more or less OK as well.

A few hours later, I went to Registro Civil, took a number and waited until I remembered I had to go to the international Police first. So I left, went across town, battling all the police and road blocks since everybody came to see the new president sworn in. I almost made it back before they called my number too! International Police is a pleasure every time.

Anyway, when I got back to Registro Civil I took a new number to sit down and wait. After a while, the earth started moving significantly. At first, I thought it was in my head and I was going to faint. Then when I realized it was another temblor, I thought it was kind of amusing. I love temblors. I just don't like when they get big, earthquakey and destructive. This one lasted a really really long time and I was nervous it would get worse. All the lights and signs are hanging in the building and they were swinging around for quite a long time. Another 15 minutes later, there was another one. Being in registro civil which is ground level of a building near the ocean, the temblor felt quite big, and I felt really connected to the earth. I again found it very interesting, calming... I kind of liked the feeling of the earth moving, as long as it wasn't distructive. But as it continued for what seemed like a very long time for a temblor, I got a little nervous that it might pick up intensity and send some of the overhanging lights shattering down above us. After the earthquake, my imagination has tended to run. (On preview: my imagination isnt the only thing that tends to run after an earthquake!)

Finally, they called my number.

I got to the booth and pulled out my papers. Again, I was missing a photocopy and the nice employee offered to make one for me. As he wandered off, I noticed that behind him there were police, one was walking back and forth quite quickly. Being the snoop I am, I tried to read his lips, which I understood quite clearly; " tsunami warning.... evacuation." What!

I waited a second until the employee rushed back over with my ID, handed it to me (I stupidly looked at him with a face of pity that, again, I wasn't going to finish the process). He looked at me like I was crazy before he told me "come back tomorrow," and advised me to bolt. I got out onto the street which is located only a block or so from the ocean, and it was pure PANIC. I was in the business district so there were people in suits running everywhere, accumulating people into the crowd as they went. Cars were honking horns and I could hear warning sirens in the background from police or fire trucks or something. A car had stalled and a couple people were trying to push it out of the way. From buildings everywhere more people were emerging, but we were all stuck at sea level with buildings blocking access to the hill. Everybody on my side of the street sprinted along the sidewalk until there was a passageway where dozens of flights of stairs led uphill to a lookout.

as we get higher up people begin looking down to see how high up they've climbed, make sure there is no water coming, and in general scope out the chaos.

Everybody was climbing as fast as they could, but many of the women in high heels were having trouble on the narrow steps, already in bad shape. People were trying to make phone calls as they climbed, but the phone lines were tied up. Every few steps people would look back as if they expected to see the water arriving at any minute. Many people were shouting to be calm and keep going so that the people further back could advance. People everywhere were bawling in pure hysteria. There were a few old people who had stopped, suffering from some sort or medical problem, asthma, or otherwise suffering from the harsh climb. Further up I saw a number of disabled people struggle to keep up with the crowd and get over obstacles.

I continued up until Avenida Alemania, the winding street that goes along halfway up the hill (mountain), and walked sideways, over an hour until I reached my street and headed down towards my house, where everybody was still outside waiting for the O.K. to return to their activities.

everybody looking down from high ground

the water looks normal

It was seriously one of the most chaotic, traumatic experiences of my life. For me it was much worse than the earthquake itself 2 weeks ago.

I really hope nobody complains about it being a false alarm. I noticed people have very poorly educated concepts of how earthquakes and tsunamis, and their precautionary measures, work. I'm glad they evacuated the city even though it turned out to be nothing, because in the end its better that then the doing nothing and having the tsunami turn out to be something real.


Natalie said...

We'd finally got into see the visa lady when it happened! 15th floor, much fun. And then the second on our way down the stairs. Total chaos when we got out onto the street. Like you, we ended up on Concepcion. Headed home before the tsunami alert was lifted. Quite a scary micro ride!

Cool photos, I wish I'd had my camera with me!

Dana Elizabeth said...

I was in salinas and got evacuated up to the naval hospital with everyone else in the navy and then was stranded there two hours because alert after alter kept coming. They had naval police at the exits waiting to arrest whoever tried to go back down to sea level. INTENSE!! My poor students stood in formation for like three hours. I guess they will have to get used to that! After all that I was really hoping to see some sort of biggish wave...maybe not anything destructive but something. I am glad that people reacted quickly and were serious about it. You never know when a small alert will become the big tsunami!

Lou said... scary! Hysteria and big crowds is not good. I just can't believe how many aftershocks you guys are getting! I read it's been over 200 now? I thought aftershocks generally lasted for a few days after the quake, but now weeks!

sarabeck said...

Sorry. First to have to deal with bureaucracy then to have to do that!
My boyfriend had a hard time calling his family because of the phone lines being busy. I talked to him most of the day. It was stressful.

Oh, this is my new blog.

lydia said...

ugh what an aweful day. i wonder why they made you leave, natalie, supposedly they were saying anybody above the 4th floor on a building is safe. though i would prefer to be somewhere where the bottom of my building wouldnt get hit either.

i heard we had over 200 aftershocks just after a few days... i wonder how many its been by now! i havent felt any since thursday

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