The seaside town of Duao, Chile is both tranquil and vibrant, where locals and tourists stroll the area sampling fresh fare from street-side sheds. The area has a comfortable rhythm common to many of the towns in the area, but lingering just below the surface are signs of an ongoing recovery.
On Saturday, February 27, 2010, in the early summer morning along the southern Pacific Coast of Chile, an 8.8-magnitude earthquake struck the region, destroying infrastructure and triggering a tsunami that overwhelmed coastal towns.
“It’s hard to explain the feeling… you go to sleep one night, seeing everything as usual, then you wake up and it’s all gone,” said Alejandro Garrido, a local fisherman.
After he and a group of about six banded together to help the elderly and alert the tourists in the area, Garrido and his neighbors spent days camping in the hills above their homes, followed by weeks in a more organized tented settlement beside the barren beach.
“My house was a 70-year-old adobe structure. It just vanished,” Garrido said. “Without the Red Cross, I don’t even know what I would’ve done.”
Immediately following the disaster, the American Red Cross spent $1.3 million to support emergency relief for more than 90,000 people, including providing hygiene kits, kitchen supplies, blankets, mattresses, shelter, water and sanitation and health care for those who were left without their homes and livelihoods. Emotional and psychological support also became essential for those affected not only by the initial onslaught of the events, but by the daily aftershocks as well.
“It makes you grateful for what you have,” said Leonel Morales, a Chilean Red Cross volunteer who wants to specialize in providing psychological support after disasters. “As a teacher, I use emotional support techniques all the time, but it’s completely different in an emergency. People are just so thankful to have you by their side,” he said.
In the three years since the disaster, the American Red Cross has provided financial assistance to more than 5,000 families to repair and improve their homes, while at the same time giving them the financial ability to determine and react to their individual needs.
Additionally, the American Red Cross is providing more than $3.4 million in ongoing support for the Chilean Red Cross through its Latin American Risk Reduction Activity (LARRA), focusing on building resilience in earthquake-affected areas, including training and equipping community disaster response teams.
In towns like Duao, fishermen are being trained in first aid and response; families are being taught emergency planning; communities are learning evacuation routes and siren warnings; locals are being trained to assist tourists in the event of a major disaster.
“We will continue to work with the communities and the government to make sure that people know what to do in case of an emergency, and to help them regain their livelihoods afterward,” said Soledad Riquelme, national director of risk management for the Chilean Red Cross.