Page last updated at 14:07 GMT, Sunday, 28 February 2010

Chile earthquake: 'I thought we were going to die'

Britons who were in Chile when the South American country was struck by an earthquake on Saturday have been sharing their experiences. The quake has affected two million people and is thought to have killed at least 300.

CHARLOTTE MOUNTFORD

We were in Santiago in an apartment building; we were up on the 14th floor, so we felt it pretty badly. It was absolutely terrifying.

It woke us up, we leapt out of bed and we didn't know what to do. The tremors were getting worse and worse and cupboards were crashing down around us.

We could hear glass smashing. We couldn't really walk so our first reaction was to jump in the bathtub which we did while the tremors got progressively worse. We cowered there, it felt like forever, but it was probably just a minute until everything was quiet.

It was just blind panic, it was pitch black, we couldn't see and there was glass everywhere on the floor and we were in our bare feet so we cut our feet quite badly as we were getting out.

We came down our building through the fire escapes. Everyone was coming out of their apartments, everyone was crying. People were clutching babies and kittens and dogs.

Charlotte Mountford describes what happened in Santiago

Everyone convened in the courtyard outside the building. All the women had got their rosaries out and they were praying and chanting in the dark.

There were sirens everywhere and it was just black.

Because the buildings were all, thank goodness, still standing we were told by our building manager just to stand until we knew what to do. Everyone was too afraid to go back inside in case of the aftershocks which are actually still going on as I'm talking to you, I can feel the building shaking.

I'm in Santiago and of course it's much worse in Concepcion and many of my friends who I'm communicating with online now are very concerned for their families because they have no way of getting in touch.

We returned to our apartment about four hours ago, we were just so exhausted we just had to get some sleep and it seemed safe, people were doing that by then.

Thank goodness the buildings in Santiago have all been designed with earthquakes in mind and with sound architecture so they seemed to be OK. We went around the corner and lots of the hotels had smashed glass panes, the big lobbies were smashed in but the buildings were all still standing.

Some calls are getting through, some aren't, definitely not the international calls. My internet's working, in fact when the earthquake was over, the internet was working on my boyfriend's Blackberry so I was able to send a couple of quick emails to my family in England to let them know that we were OK.

PAUL DAVY

We were woken up around 0345 by a tremendous shaking and we decided to get out of the building which kept shaking as we made our way downstairs in the dark.

We live up on the ninth floor, and the building was shaking like mad up at this level.

Broken plates
Paul Davy's apartment suffered damage as a result of the earthquake

It was terrifying. I mean, being British, we're not used to it, we have the occasional small tremor that we probably don't even notice, but this was something else altogether.

We started walking down to get to the ground floor, and they'd cut the lights off, the electricity went which is a standard thing in case loose cables start flying around, so we're walking down in the darkness, the building was still moving about, it was really very frightening.

The earthquake seemed to last for about three minutes. We returned to the apartment an hour later to find books, CDs and broken plates absolutely everywhere.

Modern buildings here are designed to withstand earthquakes and the country seems very well prepared.

MATT STEWART, FROM GLASGOW

I'm currently in Santiago in a hostel called Casaltura in the Puente Cal y Canto area of the city centre.

The quake hit us somewhere between 0330 and 0345 and as I sat up in bed I bumped my head against an obstruction that had appeared from nowhere.

My bed had turned into a jumping bean and as the plaster and walling came down around me, I grabbed what I could and got out of my door.

The hotel, although sparsely occupied, was in a wee bit of a panic as the exits were blocked and the cracks in the wall allowed the intermittent lights from outside to shine through.

I managed to get a few people to gather and, since the roof terrace was next to my room, we managed to get out there with a few bananas.

The main tremor... took about three minutes to pass, but subsequent aftershocks continued well into the morning, some of them almost as powerful as the main one.

I've walked round the city and while most shops and the metro are shut, the buses are running.

Many reports have talked of panic. From our vantage point we did not witness that. We did see lampposts coming down, building fascia crumbling and people gathering in as clear open spaces as they could.

By 1000 the clean-up was well underway and stoicism and the practicalities of getting on with life returned.

There are many injured and quite a few deaths in the city. But with the intensity of the tremors I believe that it is remarkable that so many more were not killed.

In the space of 10 hours our own wreck of a hotel has been returned to a habitable condition, the electricity and water restored and the smiles back on the faces of the staff and residents.

I feel very sad and reflective for those who have been injured, those who have died and all their relatives and friends. I do however feel a great deal of admiration for the Chilean people in general and those in Santiago in particular.

LLOYD EDMONDSON

We go through these tremors very often here in Santiago. But we realised the seriousness of it around 20 seconds into it. Then it started to shake even harder.

I live on the 19th floor and really began to feel that the building was swaying from side to side.

It was extremely frightening, a very surreal experience actually. I did actually think at one point that the building felt like it was going to fall down.

I was with my wife at the time and we weren't able to get out to the exit in the stairwell because it was shaking so much, and we actually had all of the glasses, the cabinet, everything fell from the walls, and the fridge was displaced. We were very lucky to get out of there.

Lloyd Edmondson
Lloyd Edmondson is a British businessman living in Santiago

We both fell off the side of the bed as we were trying to clamber out of the apartment building. Then we said let's just stay underneath the mattress because we weren't able to get out.

Santiago's a tale of contrasts. Fortunately the area that I live in has got very strong buildings in general and although the furniture and things like that fell in our house, the actual structure of the building and in the rest of the buildings in the area stayed very firm.

And so you can walk through the financial district of Santiago and be very surprised that it looks like you're on a very normal Sunday morning. I walked around extensively Saturday afternoon and very little looked different.

It's more when you go down to the other end of town, in the lower-income districts where they've got buildings that aren't quite as stable and they haven't been checked by the authorities as much, and that's where you'll see the damage.

PETER WRENCH

I was in a tent in the mountains when the earthquake started.

I was lying on the ground surrounded by huge mountains over 5,000 metres high made of granite and yet all this was being tossed around like a cork.

The sensation was like being in a two-person simulator on Brighton Pier but the realisation that the whole landscape was literally jumping around really made me think of the scale of energy that was being released. Amazing.



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