Screams, then silence

When the shaking stopped, Marioli Gatica and her extended family huddled in a circle on the floor of their seaside wooden home in this gritty port town, listening to the radio by a lantern’s light.

Victoria Hernandez cries outside her parents house in Dichato

Victoria Hernandez cries outside her parents house in Dichato

TALCAHUANO, Chile — When the shaking stopped, Marioli Gatica and her extended family huddled in a circle on the floor of their seaside wooden home in this gritty port town, listening to the radio by a lantern’s light.

They heard firefighters urging Talcahuano’s citizens to stay calm and stay inside. They heard nothing of a tsunami — until it slammed into their house with an unearthly roar about an hour after Saturday’s magnitude 8.8 quake.

Gatica’s house exploded with water. She and her family were swept below the surface, swirling amid loose ship containers and other massive debris that smashed buildings into oblivion all around them.

“We were sitting there one moment and the next I looked up into the water and saw cables and furniture floating,” Gatica said.

She clung to her 11-year-old daughter, Ninoska Elgueta, but the rush of water ripped the girl from her hands. Then the wave retreated as suddenly as it came.

Two of the giant containers crushed Gatica’s home. A third landed seaward of where she floated, preventing the retreating tsunami from dragging her and other relatives away.

Soon Ninoska was back in her mother’s arms — she had grabbed a tree branch to avoid being swept away and climbed down as soon as the sea receded.

Gatica’s son, husband and 76-year-old father were OK as well, as were her sister and her family. The only relative missing was her 76-year-old mother, Nery Valdebenito, Gatica said as she waited in a hundreds-long line outside a school to report her losses.

“I think my mother is trapped beneath” the house, Gatica said.

As she spoke, firefighters with search dogs were examining the ruins of her home blocks away. Minutes later, the group leader drew his finger across his neck: No one alive under the house.

Such horrors abound along the devastated beach communities of Chile’s south-central coast, which suffered the double tragedy Saturday of the earthquake and the tsunami it caused. Of the quake’s 723 victims, most were in the wine-growing Maule region that includes Talcahuano, now a mud-caked, ravaged town of 180,000 just north of Concepcion.

Close to 80 per cent of Talcahuano’s residents are homeless, with 10,000 homes uninhabitable and hundreds more destroyed, said Mayor Gaston Saavedra.

“The port is destroyed. The streets, collapsed. City buildings, destroyed,” Saavedra said.

In Canada, the Foreign Affairs department said 520 Canadians known to be in Chile had been contacted as of Monday afternoon, while 337 others had not yet been located.

The department said its Emergency Operations Centre will continue to follow up with Canadian officials on the ground and with family and friends on whether contact is eventually established with these individuals.

“Canada stands ready to provide any necessary assistance to the people of Chile during this time of need,” the department said on its website.

In Concepcion, the biggest city near the epicenter, rescuers heard the knocking of victims trapped inside a toppled 70-unit apartment building Monday and were drilling through thick concrete to reach them, said fire Commander Juan Carlos Subercaseux. By late Monday, firefighters had pulled 25 survivors and nine bodies from the structure.

Chile’s defence minister has said the navy made a mistake by not immediately activating a tsunami warning. He said port captains who did call warnings in several coastal towns saved hundreds of lives.

The waves came too quickly for a group of 40 retirees vacationing at a seaside campground in the village of Pelluhue. They had piled into a bus that was swept out to sea, along with trucks and houses, when the tsunami surged 200 metres into the summer resort town.

As of Monday, firefighters said, five of the retirees’ bodies had been recovered. At least 30 remained missing.

Most residents in Pelluhue, where 300 homes were destroyed, were aware of the tsunami threat. Street signs point to the nearest tsunami evacuation route.

“We ran through the highest part of town, yelling, ‘Get out of your homes!”’ said Claudio Escalona, 43, who fled his home near the campground with his wife and daughters, ages 4 and 6. “About 20 minutes later came three waves, two of them huge, about 6 metres each, and a third even bigger. That one went into everything.”

“You could hear the screams of children, women, everyone,” Escalona said. “There were the screams, and then a tremendous silence.”

In the village of Dichato, teenagers drinking on the beach were the first to shout the warning when they saw a horseshoe-shaped bay empty about an hour after the quake. They ran through the streets, screaming. Police joined them, using megaphones.

The water rose steadily, surging above the second floors of homes and lifting them off their foundations. Cars were stacked three high in the streets. Miles inland along a river valley, cows munched Monday next to marooned boats, refrigerators, sofas and other debris.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney updates media on measures taken to help with COVID-19, in Edmonton on Friday, March 20, 2020. Alberta is set to join three other provinces in exploring the feasibility of small modular reactors as a clean energy option. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Four provinces to sign memorandum of understanding to explore small nuclear reactors

Alberta, Ontario, Saskatchewan and New Brunswick sign memorandum of understanding

FILE - In this Nov. 17, 2016, file photo, Chris Kempczinski, then-incoming president of McDonald’s USA, speaks during a presentation at a McDonald’s restaurant in New York’s Tribeca neighborhood. On Wednesday, April 14, 2021, McDonald’s said the company will mandate worker training to combat harassment, discrimination and violence in its restaurants worldwide starting in 2022. (AP Photo/Richard Drew, File)
McDonald’s to mandate anti-harassment training worldwide

New standards starting in January 2022

Grounded WestJet Boeing 737 Max aircrafts are shown at the airline’s facilities in Calgary, Alta., Tuesday, May 7, 2019. WestJet says it will extend its temporary suspension of international sun flights to destinations in Mexico and the Caribbean until June 4. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
WestJet extends temporary suspension of international sun flights until June

Customers with affected itineraries will be notified of cancellations

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, right, and United States Secretary of State Antony Blinken participate in a media conference at NATO headquarters in Brussels, Wednesday, April 14, 2021. United States Secretary of State Antony Blinken is in Brussels on Wednesday for talks with European and NATO allies about Afghanistan, Ukraine and other matters. (Kenzo Tribouillard, Pool via AP)
US co-ordinates Afghanistan pullout with NATO withdrawal

Attacks on U.S. troops have largely paused but that Taliban attacks on the Afghans increased

Demonstrators take cover from crowd-dispersal munitions from police outside the Brooklyn Center Police Department while protesting the shooting death of Daunte Wright, late Tuesday, April 13, 2021, in Brooklyn Center, Minn. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
Minnesota shooting charging decision awaited, protests go on

Police and protesters faced off once again after nightfall Tuesday

In this Nov. 12, 1995, file photo, Buffalo Bills head coach Marv Levy looks on during the second quarter of the Bills game against the Atlanta Falcons at Rich Stadium in Orchard Park, N.Y. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP/Bill Sikes, File
Former Alouettes head coach Marv Levy tops 2021 Canadian Football Hall of Fame class

The ‘21 class will boost the Hall of Fame’s membership to 316

Dr. Robert Strang, chief medical officer of health, provides an update on health system preparations in Nova Scotia for the coronavirus that causes COVID-19, in Halifax on Friday, March 6, 2020. Strang says plans are in place to stage the women’s world hockey championship in the province next month with limited spectators.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan
Nova Scotia plans to allow limited crowds at women’s world hockey championship

All 10 teams in Halifax and Truro must participate in a 14-day quarantine

”Kim’s Convenience” cast member Andrew Phung poses in this undated handout photo. “Kim’s Convenience” has just ended but Andrew Phung is already “knee-deep in ideas and stories” for his next project, “Run the Burbs.” The Calgary-raised actor, who played comical car-rental employee Kimchee on “Kim’s,” co-created the upcoming comedy series and will star in it as a stay-at-home dad with an entrepreneur wife and two kids. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO - CBC
‘Kim’s Convenience’ actor Andrew Phung on crafting his own series, ‘Run the Burbs’

‘Run the Burbs’ production could start in the summer or fall

Canisia Lubrin poses in this undated handout photo. Rising literary talent Canisia Lubrin is among the Canadian finalists for the $65,000 Griffin Poetry Prize. The Griffin Trust announced the three homegrown wordsmiths and four international poets on this year’s short list on Wednesday. Lubrin, who recently received the US$165,000 Windham-Campbell Prize, is nominated for “The Dyzgraphxst” (pronounced diss-graff-ist), published by McClelland and Stewart. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO - Anna Keenan
Rising writer Canisia Lubrin among Canadian finalists for $65K Griffin Poetry Prize

Griffin will award two winners, one international and one Canadian

A prairie fire in the Burnt Lake district. (Photo by Bert Fors via Red Deer Archives)
Michael Dawe: Fires of spring 1931 in central Alberta

Central Alberta has just come through a relatively warm and dry winter… Continue reading

Gwynne Dyer
Opinion: Boris Johnson is to blame for what’s happening in Ireland

Twenty-three years of peace in Northern Ireland, after a sectarian war that… Continue reading

Canada's Sarah Pavan and Melissa Humana-Paredes, fom left, celebrate after winning women's gold medal match against Brazil's team at the Beach Volley Worldtour Major Series, in Vienna, Austria on August 4, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP, Ronald Zak
Canada’s world champion beach volleyball duo finally getting games before Tokyo

Canada’s world champion beach volleyball duo finally getting games before Tokyo

Toronto Raptors center Khem Birch (24) gets fouled by Atlanta Hawks guard Bogdan Bogdanovic (13) during the first half of an NBA basketball game Tuesday, April 13, 2021, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)
Bogdanovic, Capela lead Hawks past Raptors 107-103

Bogdanovic, Capela lead Hawks past Raptors 107-103

Most Read