Valparaiso: Fear of tsunami sends us racing to the hills

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VALPARAISO, CHILE — Two days after a massive earthquake struck Chile, mass panic erupted here when word spread that a tsunami was coming.

As I was sitting in the kitchen eating lunch with my host family, my host dad rushed into the room, yelling, “the tsunami is coming!” Our house is two blocks from the beach. We dashed for the door leaving everything behind. The street was a stampede as we joined our neighbors running away from the water toward the hills.

It turned out to be a false alarm, but the terror it generated revealed the insecurity and panic among the city’s residents. We remain without light and electricity in most parts of the city. We're not sure when either will return, so many of us prepare for several days without electricity or water by stocking up on supplies.

But it's not very easy. Much of the normal city services are still not functioning. My host mother and I went to the supermarket this morning to stock up on food, but we waited in line for an hour before it opened.

Inside, several aisles were blocked off by cardboard because products had been shaken off of the shelves and spilled on the floor. Without electricity, the supermarket had one cash register open and accepted cash only, resulting in a line that crowded the entire front of the store with customers. Lines at gas stations stretched around the block, particularly in the hours after the tsunami scare.

Although debris from broken windows and crumbling walls still litters the street, most people remained at home with their families today. With reports coming in about the tremendous devastation sustained in southern Chile, people are most concerned with getting in contact with family and friends. Cell phones seem to be working for now. People in areas with electricity have been able to access the internet for information about loved ones.

Despite the panic, the Chilean people have demonstrated a tremendous sense of solidarity. Our next door neighbor is an elderly woman who lives alone, and my host mother has been in constant contact with her, checking in after each aftershock and keeping her updated with news.

As soon as we were able, my extended host family gathered at my host grandmother’s house to be together, where we huddled by the radio, listening to damage reports.