Chile: Report from the Field

Marcelo Lewkow is the National Director of ORT Chile. This is his update:

At 3:40 am on the last Shabbat of our summer holiday, just a few short days away from the first day of classes in schools throughout Chile, the earth moved.

I was home asleep and my bed moved so violently that it took me seconds to get down the stairs and outside my house in an open and safe space.

I was working for ORT Mexico in 1985, and vividly remember that catastrophic earthquake. Based on my memory and perception, this latest earthquake was both stronger and longer.

The communication system was very fragile – cell phones were off and sending MSM messages was the only way people could be in contact. I was able to communicate with my family and friends in Chile to make sure everyone was okay, as well as contact my family in Argentina. In complete darkness (lights were, and still are, off) I waited sleeplessly for the early morning light to dawn while listening to the radio.

Soon, it became clear that this was one of the strongest earthquakes in Chilean history, centered in Cauquenes, a couple of hundred kilometers south west of Santiago.

It was felt strongly and caused casualties around the center of the earthquake and also in modern Santiago and surrounding urban areas.

Lights are still off in 60% of the city, public transportation is suspended, and the government has requested everyone to remain at home if possible. Shops are closed and electronic payment systems are shut down throughout most of the city. So far, the population is remaining calm while waiting for a wider evaluation of the situation and official announcements.

The Jewish community in Chile, composed of an estimated 16,000 inhabitants, most of who live in Santiago, to my knowledge have not suffered any losses or casualties. Synagogues and schools are okay, pending a deeper evaluation by professionals, but there is no visible damage to the buildings or hydraulic systems.

ORT in Chile has two headquarters which both seem to be alright, and all personnel are safe and sound.

image: courtesy Jaime Pérez Peñaloza