Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Chile Earthquake Update by Temple President Ted Lyon

We've had a bit more time to find out details since the big quake. Cheryl's letter, written last Saturday just a few hour after the quake, was written in haste and was never intended to be a full report, nor did she expect it to "go around the world" as it has done. We had only two hours of sleep before the quake, and then she had experienced several hours of anguish and fear, plus having to rush to take care of several very real urgencies and emergencies. She wishes that she could recall, and then re-write that letter, since it has been reproduced almost everywhere.

What might we say with a week's perspective? First, the damage is much much more than originally reported or we realized. For the first twenty-four or thirty hours the Chilean news media didn't even report anything on a tsunami here, but covered happy tourists waiting to film something in Hawaii! The tsunami, reported here to be somewhere between ten all the way up to ninety feet in height (quite a variation; averaging the two might make a safe guess), did terrible damage, perhaps killing more and doing more damage than the earthquake itself. The reasons for this slow reporting are somewhat understandable - all electric power, microwave towers, and other base ground works for communications were down. Bridges were (are) out, roads were impassable, and most seacoast boats had been washed high up on the shore, or destroyed. No one really knew anything. Some few who had satellite-link phones could communicate. It was night of course (full moon though) and no one could take a picture of the tsunami. All coastal towns that I know here have a good warning system (sirens, evacuation routes) for tsunamis, but people in isolated areas did not have this advantage. The damage is truly terrible. Here in Santiago not so bad, but there are thousands here whose homes or apartment buildings were so damaged that they cannot return.
Almost all modern buildings stood up very well.

The LDS Church is doing something. A lot. We are working through established ward, stake and mission structures. And this is good - we indeed "cover the territory," and know how to deliver aid. The first aid has been to members but where possible, and where real need exists, has extended to thousands of others. For several days the government wouldn't let relief from Church headquarters into the country. And the roads to the worst-hit areas simply cold not be used. We have several bishop's storehouses set up in and near the Concepcion area; a mobile hospital, have sent tons of water, food, medical, blankets, clothing supplies from here in Santiago. We have an on ground rep with a satellite phone who keeps in touch. All our missionaries are safe; I wish that concerned mothers would quit pressuring the Church for details (as they have done so loudly; hundreds of calls every day to find out if Johnny is OK). Trust the Lord, the call, the setting apart, the mission president and wife. Actually, I personally feel that where ever possible the missionaries ought to be out on the streets, trying to help people, all people, and not just holed up in a safe chapel waiting to "report in." (I may get in minor trouble for that last statement, but hey, I can express deep-seated feelings here). So far we only know of one member killed, some 900 homes of members destroyed (that's a huge number, and will grow) and major damage to 40 or 50 chapels. Many chapels, even here in Santiago, suffered minor damage, but hey - being alive, you can live fairly well with cracks in the walls, and broken or missing ceiling tiles.

Finally (I say "finally" only because this letter may already be too long and no one really wants to read 'too-long' letters from too-talkative Ted): some surprises. We are used to minor quakes here, quite often. But when this one started, at 3:34 AM, I knew that it was more than minor, because of the noise, yes, the actual noise of the earth moving. Not only could I feel the sliding up of some distant tectonic plate, but we could hear it! Grinding, rock on rock. Then the noise of building shaking, really shaking as if it were cardboard in the wind. Then dishes and pictures falling from the cupboards and walls. The sound was frightening (and also Cheryl complaining in fear - I hate to see or hear her suffer anything). Time. Perhaps just a little over two total minutes, but paralyzed as were were, rocking back and forth on the fourth floor of a building that seemed sure to fall, time was extended and seemed to go on for hours. When will it end? How soon will I die?!

Will it be long, painful hours in rubble, with twisted girders and legs and ankles twisted and broken too? Hurry, end this all now! And then finally, peace, peace. The building stopped shaking and sliding back and forth, and peace came. We all rushed from the building, and gathered near the fountain between our temple patron housing building and the temple. People came from neighboring apartments and joined us. And "round about the temple" we "were marveling and wondering one with another . . . ." And conversing about the amazing thing that had taken place and the destruction, yes (or, yea), even the fact that we were alive, safe, saved. And only a few minutes later did I realize that we had all sought the temple, to be near the temple (III Nephi 11:1,2), to gather and find peace. And we did.

Thank you for all your prayers,
Ted Lyon

BYU Professor Dr. Ted Lyon has served as an LDS (Mormon) mission president in Chile. He has also served as the president of the Chile LDS Missionary Training Center. He is currently serving as Temple President in the Santiago Chile LDS Temple.

The earthquake in Chile moved the city Conception (population 300.000) three meters on the map. The city Santiago (3.700.000 people or 46% of Chile's entire population) moved twenty-eight centimeters in the same earthquake. With over half a million Latter-day Saints living in the country, the Church has a substantial presence in Chile.

"Safety for the Soul" Part 1 - Jeffrey R. Holland 2009

"Safety for the Soul" Part 2 - Jeffrey R. Holland 2009

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