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Chile: "Houses Were Literally Swallowed by the Tide"
MSF teams provide assistance to a traumatized population further affected by powerful aftershocks
March 12, 2010
Chile 2010 © Pierre Garrigou/MSF
Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) teams in Chile have increased the distribution of medical supplies and relief material such as hygiene kits, plastic sheeting for shelter and blankets in the regions of Maule and Bío Bío, which were severely impacted by the earthquake that struck the country 12 days ago. Additionally, a team of psychologists is supporting the training of mental health workers who will assist the affected people.
The First Days After the Quake
Pierre Garrigou, a MSF logistician from Argentina, describes the situation he encountered in the first days after the quake: “Inland, in the areas far from the coast, there were lots of destroyed buildings, lots of rubble. Yet on the coast, earth tremors were compounded by a tsunami, which really devastated everything. While your home may collapse as a result of the earthquake, you may still be able to rescue something amongst the rubble; yet on coastal areas houses were literally swallowed by the tide.” Many people lost their belongings. Many were left homeless and had to camp in precarious makeshift shelters. MSF therefore focused initially on improving people’s living conditions by distributing plastic sheeting, rope, blankets and jerry cans, along with hygiene kits.
As a result of the losses suffered during the earthquake and the powerful aftershocks that followed, people are deeply traumatised. Each new tremor intensifies the tension and fear in the population. “Once, an aftershock occurred when we were with a lady and her four children,” explains Lina María Peña Peñaranda, an MSF psychologist from Colombia. “She started to cry and I tried to sooth her and comfort her. She did not want us to leave. Her legs were shaking badly and she could not stop crying. We had to keep her company for a long time.”
Distribution of Relief Items
Everyday, in their operational sites in and around Talca and Concepción, MSF staff works with municipal and state officials to identify the most pressing needs. Then, MSF logisticians, medical staff and psychologists divide themselves into teams, load supplies into trucks, and travel to outlying areas that need assistance. In areas closer to the coast, MSF professionals distribute medical kits to the population while also providing psychological support.