I can’t remember if it was falling bits of plaster, or if it was sparking electrical wires or just a mental breakdown that made me run out into the street. Whatever it was, it didn’t get better in the street. I looked up at the wires swaying like there were heavy winds, and sending off sparks. They criss-crossed the street, everywhere I looked there were wires above me and buildings shuddering around me. The streets were narrower than the height of the buildings, which by my terrified calculations meant I was surely going to die, one way or another. I hopped around in a circle on my toes looking up as the world came to a rest.
I ran back to the doorway whining. The joven asked me again if I understood what was happening. I told him yes, it was an earthqu- and the shaking started again. I grabbed his t-shirt sleeve and pulled on it. Why wouldn’t it stop? Why was I here? What about my kids? How could this be happening?
I tried to ask him if the authorities would cut the power to the lines. My biggest fear at that moment was that the sparks would start a fire or an explosion. Every day dozens of trucks filled with propane tanks careen along the narrow streets of Valparaiso. By my calculus that meant that every house and building in town had at least one propane tank in an unknown state of stability. I couldn’t make him understand that I didn’t mean “do we have power”, I meant “did someone cut the power at the source”.
People started filtering out of the Hostel in their pajamas, dazed and scared. Someone other than me was crying. Dogs were barking and everything kept moving. After about a half an hour of big aftershocks off and on, people wandered back into the hostel. Employees showed up to check oh the hostel. People who lived in Chile were clearly rattled. They passed around cigarettes. The street started to light up with people getting in their cars and leaving.
I stood in the doorway of the hostel for a long time, wishing it would be daylight. It wouldn’t. It was only 4:30am. I made a foray into my room to get some leggings for under my skirt, throw on a bra, find some shoes and start packing. I needed to leave. I had been planning to leave eventually that day, but I felt a greater urgency. Especially since I had no way of knowing what was going on in other parts of the country. I thought about Diane and Annie again and hoped it wasn’t worse in Santiago.
People started pulling out flashlights in the buildings facing the street, Shining them out the windows and evaluating the situation. Someone found a battery powered radio. Someone else turned on their car radio. Every 5 minutes or so the buildings would start creaking again and people would moan, dogs would bark. A few times, a dog nearby would bark right before an aftershock. This had the effect of making me prickle with goosebumps every time that dog barked. It turned out to be a very random thing that dog barking, but my mind was grasping for sense.
I stood in my room with all doors and windows open. I brushed my teeth in the dark, packed my things as best I could in the dark. I realized that although I had charged my computer the night before, it wasn’t going to help me at all. All electricity was out. And although it was my intention to charge my phone, I hadn’t plugged that in. It took me a while to realize I could charge my phone with my computer, which is what I did.
As I was staring out into the street I saw a firetruck stop at the end of the street. There were blue flashing lights a ways away, but nothing very close. Firemen (bomberos) in their yellow suits, fireman hats and fireman boots started walking down the streets, fanning out from their parked truck. They had big flashlights and would stop and ask if everyone was OK. When the bombero got to the Luna Sonrisa he shone his light at my window where I was standing. “Esta Sola?” Are you by yourself? I nodded. He suggested I come outside so he could talk to me. I went.
“Como se llama?” Lisa. “Lisa, Soy Cristian. Mucho gusto. Esta asustada?” His name was Cristian and he wanted to know if I was scared. I was. He told me to sit on the stoop while he made is way down the block, that when he got to the corner he was going to come back and check on me, which he did. By the time he got back the joven was on the stoop with me. We sat for a while shivering on the stoop. A woman walked by and looked at us, “Estan asustaditos?” Aww, you’re scared? We nodded.