America,  Chile,  TDM,  Travel Journal

Castro (Chile): earthquake, tsunami warning on Christmas Day

We are on December 24th, at the water’s edge, in a super picturesque stilts hut near Castro (Chiloé Island)

In the middle of the evening, JB tells me that we hear waves, it’s completely abnormal. We have been here for 4 days and this is the first time we hear some. JB thinks of a big boat passing by, I think directly of a tsunami. A small check on Twitter tells us that a very small earthquake has just taken place 30 minutes ago super far from here and that no tsunami warning has been given. JB blames me for being paranoid since our two earthquakes in Burma & New Zealand. It just rained, that’s all!

I think it’s better to have someone super careful in the family even if you have to be paranoid from time to time. I take this opportunity to follow the Chilean earthquake and tsunami alert accounts. And I come across this photo reminding me what to put in your emergency bag in case of evacuation

It is December 25th. The water continues to be higher than normal, which JB attributes to the heavy rain yesterday. It is almost noon. The hut starts to shake. Strong of our experiences, we know what is happening: an earthquake. We go directly out of the hut, because we know that the most secured zone is outside, and not in a wooden hut at the edge of the water (to go out isn’t necessarily a good decision when we are in a building in the city center but here, we are in the countryside). It only lasts 20 seconds, but it is the first time we experience it standing, and not sitting or lying down. It’s super weird

Finally, 0 damage, a few plastic bottles fell in the bathroom. As we closed the wood stove well, no incident is to be reported either. Electricity is off, Wifi too, 3G does not work, but the Whatsapp from JB works

What we learned from the New Zealand earthquake is that tsunami warnings may NOT be given in time, even in developed countries, as tsunami can arrive only minutes after an earthquake. So, when we are close to the water, especially like us, there are 2 clues announcing the tsunami: the earthquake was strong, or it lasted a long time – see this info given by NZ Get Thru

A long or strong earthquake is your first warning of a tsunami and waves can arrive within minutes. Do not wait for official advice or warning systems. Wherever you are, remember if you are in a coastal area and feel an earthquake that makes it hard to stand up or lasts for more than a minute, move immediately to the nearest high ground, or as far inland as you can. Don’t wait for an official tsunami warning.

In any case, we are preparing to be evacuated. We are in a bay with many islands around. If a tsunami hits us, it will first hit these islands, before coming to us. In any case, the risk exists but remains minimal

I watch the water from the inside while JB asks his brothers on Whatsapp to keep us informed for any tsunami alert (except Whatsapp, we don’t get 3G or Wifi)

The water is much too calm. We can see the reflection of the huts in front of the terrace, I have never seen water like this before

Suddenly, all the birds, ducks start to fly. And we can hear the waves hitting the stilts, just like yesterday. Let’s evacuate!

At the same time, we hear a kind of siren, I don’t know where it comes from. By the time I take my wallet and my phone to go out, I realize that it is my phone that produces this siren. The tsunami warning was given by phone!

It is an alert issued by “cellular diffusion”. Why am I the only one to receive it? I have no idea

Other tourists in other cabins are reluctant to go out. I show them the alert I received on my phone and we walk together to the nearest hill. There we meet a Chilean neighbor who reassures us that the alert has been given to everyone on the island (the island is very big), but in case of a real tsunami alert, the maritime police will pass by and ask us to evacuate

I’m picking up the 3G, finally. I hand my phone to a Hispanic neighbor so she can do the research. We all discover with amazement that not only was the earthquake violent: 7.6 on the Richter scale, but it was also very close to us

We return to our hut, I don’t hear the noise of the waves at all but I am not reassured for all that. I still prepare a more complete bag in case of evacuation, like the bag I saw the day before + our most precious things (so we won’t have any regrets if ever we lose everything that remains in the flat). The answer comes 5 minutes later, a car passes in the streets with a siren and a loudspeaker. We don’t understand anything to what is said, but our neighbors confirm us that it is necessary to evacuate

The owner of the hotel brings everyone to the evacuation area with his pickup truck to the church of Nercon. It is an old wooden church, but it is closed on Christmas day. I show the garden in front of the church to JB: if there is another earthquake, we will have to go there, not hide under this old church

On the picture: the epicenter is represented by the star. Castro is the green zone with risk of tsunami. Honestly, if we were not in Castro, I don’t know what was better: staying in Puerto Montt where we were a week ago (the blue zone) or Bariloche (the other blue zone in Argentina). All the places where we were recently were risk zones in fact! I have my mother on Facebook: she tells me that the earthquakes follow me. After Burma and New Zealand, this is indeed our third earthquake in 6 months. Thank you for this consolation!

We learn via Twitter that the alert has been lifted around 1:30 pm. We all go back to the hotel, reassured. The water remains very high

At 2:30 pm, the water drops to normal level. More fear than harm, we have just celebrated our first Christmas around the world, with an earthquake and a tsunami alert as gifts

Merry Christmas!

Part 2: Practical Tips

In case of evacuation, if the risk is low, take your passports, first aid kit, some food, water and warm clothing

If the risk is high, leave only with your passports

Some Spanish vocabulary

  • terramoto / seismo: earthquake
  • tsunami: tsunami
  • alerta: alert
  • Socorro! Help!
  • Puede aydarme? can you help me?
  • seguridad: security
  • evacuar a zona de seguridad/zona segurida

Useful Twitter accounts


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