CARS HOMES JOBS

Locals with Chilean ties hope for the best after huge earthquake

Sunday, February 28, 2010
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— East Greenbush residents Maria and Esteban Onate called family in Chile all day Saturday to no avail.

The couple, who have lived in the Capital Region for more than 40 years, watched satellite television to gain insight into what was happening this weekend as one of the worst earthquakes ever struck her home country.

Finding out that much of the people were without electricity, water and communication channels didn’t help ease her mind — until she finally heard from her sister.

“I received a call. All my family is fine,” said Maria Esteban, 74. “It’s really bad there, especially in the south.”

Many of the houses have crumbled and bridges have collapsed in southern parts of Chile while more developed locales like Santiago weren’t as badly damaged, according to Esteban.

“It’s terrible,” she said.

Esteban’s family is typical of the estimated 15 families with direct ties to Chile living in the Capital Region, according to Rosa Tabora, former president and current project organizer for the South American Spanish Association. The nonprofit organization is based in the Capital Region with 300 members representing Spanish-speaking nations and regions such as Puerto Rico, Central America, Spain and much of South America.

Union College Spanish professor Maritza Osuna, who was born in Chile, were among those left with no answers. Phone calls to family were unanswered.

“I’m just waiting,” she said late Saturday night after staying glued to Chilean satellite channels for most of the day. Osuna has taught at Union for the past 15 years.

Santiago, Chile, native Leonardo Villarroel was a student at Union College in the summer of 2007 as an English and Spanish literature and linguistics major, according to an undergraduate research site for the institution.

Villarroel could not be reached, but the messages on his Twitter account on Saturday, written in Spanish, said it all when translated: “Now back to my house where there is no connection. Details of the earthquake in Sant. later. But we are all well,” he wrote on Saturday morning.

Later in the day he wrote, apparently referring to the earthquake and a strong aftershock: “Two earthquakes ... If I said that [magnitude 8.8] was strongest was only because I was closest to the epicenter,” he wrote at noon Saturday.

By 4 p.m. he wrote comically with the tweet, “The impact of an earthquake subsides when someone on Facebook is a fan of ‘I lived two earthquakes.’ ”

By 9 p.m., there was limited relief: “The knowledge that loved ones are fine but have no means of communication with them ... sucks.”

Adam Kress, a third-year doctoral student at the University at Albany, traveled to Chile last summer. He said he called friends in Chile to make sure they were OK, including his driver and translator, after he heard about the earthquake Saturday morning. Kress wasn’t successful by phone but had other positive results.

“I was able to make contact through e-mail. The phones are down and they probably still are,” Kress said. “They’re without water and electricity right now, but they were able to find a friend.”

Kress, a native of Watkins Glen who has lived in the Albany area since 2007, said Santiago is located about two hours in driving distance from the coast, which was where the epicenter of the earthquake was located.

“They’re coping with a major natural disaster and they’re doing the best they can. It’s not nice, but they’re coping really well.”

While international aid hasn’t been requested yet, Kress hopes countries throughout the globe help Chile rebuild and restore what was lost.

“I hope people will give as generously as possible,” Kress said.

 
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