(TALCA, CHILE) Our son, Jason Crenshaw, is located in Talca, Chile, in the closest and possibly the hardest-hit large city near the epicenter of Saturday’s 8.8-magnitude earthquake.
Astonishingly, amidst all the downed infrastructure, we got a brief message from him Saturday afternoon, then another one this morning asking us to call him, as he had permission to call family. We did so, and here is a summary of his report, to the best of my memory.
Reality “On the Ground” the First Night
Elder Jason Crenshaw and his missionary companion, Elder Mark Roberts, were awakened by the shaking around 3:30 am and immediately ran outside their one-story cement-based home. Standing was impossible. They sat on the ground, which shook side-to-side and then in circular motion, but not up-and-down. It seemed to him that the worst shaking lasted 5 minutes, but then it continued at a lesser intensity, nonstop, for a total of around 33 minutes.
During it all, the earth made deep groaning noises, and repeatedly made a sound: “like a dog makes when it half-barks and half-bites you; imagine that sound, only being made by a huge monster, over and over.”
When the initial shaking subsided, they looked around, and their newer, concrete structures were unaffected, so they mostly felt amazement at what they had experienced. They then began searching through the city of Talca. Their amazement turned to distress as they realized that the numerous adobe buildings had collapsed, burying people and belongings. People lay dead in the streets. The city center had, indeed collapsed as reported by the news. I reassured him that it was largely uninhabited, because they were business buildings (as the news reported), but he corrected me. “Every one of those businesses had a home on top of it.” He said that initial reports were that at least 170 people had died when the city center buildings fell.
The First Day, Unrest Begins
That first night was a distressing, but the next day, hunger began setting in among the residents and looting spread. “Crime has skyrocketed: violent crime, non-violent crime, petty crime. People are breaking into buildings and looting them whether or not anyone lives there.” Helping others unbury their houses was difficult because of the non-stop aftershocks, 15 of which were huge magnitude 7.0+ earthquakes [he probably meant 6.0] in their own right in the 50-60 hours since that first shock. This has made it difficult and dangerous to sift through rubble to find or help people.
Their own home was undamaged, so they opened it up to someone who lost his house, and were planning on going to help him sift through the rubble for anything useful as soon as it was safe enough to venture in. “We hope nobody has looted his house yet.”
The Second Night
By nightfall, the looting became serious. They could hear shouts, “a few gun shots,” tumult, and clashes. “Fifty alarms were going non-stop from stores, banks, cars, and other places.” “It sounded like a war.” Their now-homeless friend, sharing their home, had been in war, and he said this was a good analogy, but with one difference. “In war, you know that when you cross a certain line or reach a certain place, you are safe. Here, that isn’t true.”
“Nobody has slept here in two days,” he said. “It’s impossible with all the noise, tumult, and aftershocks.” “It seems like there are more aftershocks at night than during the day.”
Current Status and Concerns
Jason assured us that they are all right, the local Church members are diligently watching out for them. We reassured him that all LDS missionaries are accounted for and safe. This was news to him, and he welcomed it because he was concerned about one of his former companions in particular.
He was most concerned about Dichato, where he had served before, because he was sure that the high ground where they usually run wasn’t high enough for this tsunami, Dichato is built on a bay, which concentrates and magnifies the height of the waves. “A very reliable source” in Chile indicated that a 40-foot tourist attraction rock in another city, Constitucion, was washed over by the tsunami. That source (a local radio station that does not broadcast reports until verified) also mentioned that the sea town of Constitucion had been wiped out. The station had sent someone to drive there and survey the damage directly before issuing the report. Jason was hesitant to accept the official government figures of deaths and destruction, certain that officials were keeping the reports low to break bad news slowly.
Jason’s greatest concern was the current lack of food and fresh water for the city in general. The missionaries are mostly OK: they had been provisioned with a small-but-effective 200-gallon water purifier two months ago (“somebody clearly had some advance inspiration, because they gave us these at a Zone Conference”); LDS members were the best-prepared of the citizens, and the members watch over the missionaries zealously. However, the general lack of food was causing desperation and civil deterioration. He hopes that food and water are coming soon, or it is going to be a very bad situation. However, most north-south travel is cut off due to collapsed bridges and damaged roads, which was a great concern.
These are his feelings and reports, and what he is hearing there in the midst of everything. Regardless of the overall reality, uncertainty and fear among the people is a part of the calamity they are enduring. They need our prayers.
We will keep you posted as we learn more from him.