Friday, March 5, 2010

Earthquake in Chile: Faith prevails over fear

Ana Torres Henriquez is a reluctant earthquake veteran. As a Chilean, she's learned first-hand that her country is a seismically-active land. Geologically, the Latin term "Terra Firma" does not apply to Chile. In 1985, Sister Torres Henriquez survived a deadly quake at its epicenter in the coastal city of Valparaiso. Still, nothing from the past prepared this ward Relief Society president for the massive magnitude-8.8 temblor that rattled the central coast of Chile on Feb. 27.
AP Photo
Aftermath of the magnitude-8.8 earthquake in Chile.
"It seemed like the movement of the earthquake was eternal — it never quit," wrote Sister Torres Henriquez in an e-mail shared with friends.

The disaster — which claimed more than 700 lives and left many more without power, water and food — "has been a great blow for all, and event of much reflection," she added. "Chile is a country of many earthquakes, but I think this has been devastating."

Counted among the quake's mortally wounded is one Latter-day Saint. (The name has not been released to the media.)

All missionaries serving in the country's nine missions were reported as safe and many have been enlisted in ongoing relief efforts. Some missionary apartments were severely damaged, so affected missionaries were staying in the homes of members or in meetinghouses, according to a Church news release.

Church-led efforts to provide relief to those in need following what is being called one of the most powerful earthquakes of the last century were immediate. "Local leaders and members began relief efforts shortly after the quake distributing food and water already located in Concepcion [where damage was severe]," the news release said.

"Church leaders have identified that food, water, tents, blankets, hygiene kits and sleeping mats are needed to assist people in the affected region. Representatives of the Church in Chile have been in contact with the country's Interior Ministry to determine how the Church can most appropriately assist in relief efforts. Emergency response personnel at Church headquarters are poised to provide assistance as appropriate."

On March 2, the Church delivered six tons of food from local bishops' storehouses to the city of Talca to help feed those impacted by the quake in several cities north of Concepcion. A second shipment of 20 tons of food was also sent to Concepcion, according to Church spokesman Scott Trotter.

Two additional shipments of food were also sent to affected areas south of Concepcion.

Lynn Samsel, the Church's director of emergency response, said that any loss of life and destruction is a tragedy. Still, he added, "we don't anticipate that the situation in Chile will be nearly as devastating as what we've seen in Haiti."

More than a half-million homes in Chile reportedly sustained considerable damage following the main quake and its multiple, powerful aftershocks. Most Church buildings "fared well" in the quake, though many are filled with dust. At least three meetinghouses suffered extensive structural damage and another was severely flooded, according to the Church. A house that served as a meetinghouse near the Chilean coastline was swept away in the tsunami triggered by the quake.

Meanwhile, the Santiago Chile Temple was spared any significant damage. The trumpet from the statue of the Angel Moroni that stands atop the temple did fracture and fall to the ground.

Communication in quake-affected regions of Chile proved unreliable for days after the disaster. Many members utilized text messaging and other forms of online social networking to communicate with worried relatives and loved ones. Some shared terrifying first-hand accounts of the early-morning catastrophe.
"The movement of the earth was terrible," wrote Carmen Luz Lamos Lastres, who lives about an hour southwest of Santiago in the Talagante Branch of Chile's Talagante District. "I have been in several earthquakes over the course of my life, but this surpasses anything expected.

"[During the quake] I walked to the door of my house to open it and be in a safe place. The ground was moving up and down, like the movement of a boat."

Sister Lamos Lastres wrote that she found comfort in the midst of the panic "knowing that our Father in Heaven loves us and protects us."

Eighteen-year-old Susana Fuentes of Penaflor, Chile, shared this account:

"I was awakened by the rumblings and jumped in bed with my sisters to wait for the shaking to stop. My older sister said it would be wise to move under the door as a precaution. We all held hands and moved to a place outside on the patio where we would not be hit by any falling objects.

"We could see the cars on the road moving and going up and down. I prayed that God would help us and protect my family and all who needed Him. I remained calm. The floor was moving from one side to the other like a wave."

Sister Cheryl Lyon is the matron of the Santiago Chile Temple, where she serves with her husband, President Ted Lyon. Sister Lyon wrote that she and the many others who work and worship in the temple were relieved to discover the edifice remained largely unscathed. Electrical service was interrupted in Santiago on the morning of the quake, so the decision was made to close the temple once the gas that fuels the temple generator was exhausted.

"Then, just in the second that the lights began to dim, the power came back on!" wrote Sister Lyon.

They proceeded with an endowment session and sealings for the benefit of three couples from out of town who had stayed Friday night in patron housing on the temple grounds. Workers, who typically serve on Friday's late shifts and generally stay in the housing and serve early on Saturdays, were on hand for temple work Saturday morning.

"We had a most moving morning. The quake has brought such a sense of unity to workers and patrons, and the Spirit was amazing. I've seldom had such a moving experience [in the temple] — with three consecutive young sisters receiving their endowments."

Guillermina Guerra, a member in Santiago, wrote that following the direction of inspired leaders to store emergency food and provisions has helped sustain her family in the quake's desperate aftermath. "Many people don't have food now that the supermarkets have been closed. It is then when the members remember the welfare plan that is inspired of God in order to protect us. We have our emergency things that helped us."

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