Thinking of Chile

Written By: jeff

Posted On: March 1st, 2010

From the time I awoke on Saturday morning, the news of Chile’s earthquake preoccupied most of my thoughts. Since my first visit there in March 2007, as part of my career break, I came to know this country very well. In the past 3 years, I have studied, traveled, lived and worked there. I have lifelong friends in Santiago making Chile a part of my future, not just a memory of my traveling past. Luckily, I have heard from most of my friends. But, I am still trying to get into contact with the few that I have not heard from yet. I have been caught between wanting to call and not wanting to tie up phone lines which may be better served helping people who need to be in contact with emergency relief. Today I tried calling but found it difficult to get a phone line to many of the people on my list.

Some friends survived the quake with only a few broken plates crashing to the floor. My friend Paul, a Brit who emigrated to Chile after his career break, was interviewed this weekend by the BBC Radio. Another friend, Paola, did not fare so well. In a message conveyed to me today via Facebook, she told me that she was trapped in her 8th floor apartment for some time. When she was able to wedge the door open, she fell through and onto broken glass below. While she is now physically fine, her apartment is a no-go zone.

In December 2009, I was back in Chile filming for Career Break Secrets throughout Patagonia. Most of the people I met on that trip live and work far from the earthquake. However, one group of people, the staff of the Navimag ferry, live and work near the epicenter of the earthquake. The ship leaves out of Puerto Montt, an important industrial and shipping town to the south of Concepción. Yet, many of the crew that I met live nearby in quake-affected zones like the island of Chiloé or the city of Concepción. Today reports emerged of extensive looting in Concepción.

As of the writing of this post, I still have not heard from the folks at Navimag. Their website had been down but finally came up again today. I continue to try to contact the people at Navimag hoping to get word about how everyone is doing. And, I continue to hope that the impact to these people and their families is minor. Realistically, I know that the impact to their lives is not minimal.

Navimag’s Impact of the Region

Most travelers to Patagonia will know Navimag simply as a cool way to see the remote Patagonian coast. For me, it truly is one of the gems of Patagonia and a great way to experience the region. But, Navimag is more than a travel experience. It is a vital link and lifeline to the remote and southerly communities of Chile. It transports weekly supplies, cargo, mail, medicine and people from the south to the north. In fact, the passenger service of Navimag came much later in its history.

There is no continuous overland route from Puerto Montt down to Puerto Natales in Chile. Yet, in between lie numerous, remote communities that rely on supplies to arrive via ferry. Some of these communities can receive supplies by the air via hub cities like Coyhaique. Or they can rely on their road links across the border to Argentina. But other communities, like Puerto Eden, only have Navimag’s service to rely on. Plus, there is some industrial cargo that flows between Puerto Montt and Puerto Natales that can only be transported by ship.

Beyond this, Navimag has served to help the Chilean navy in previous Chilean natural disasters. In May 2008, when the Chaitén volcano exploded in that coastal town, Navimag´s Evangelistas ship was part of the disaster relief effort. Chaitén has 2 roads going in and out of it – one north and one south. Land evacuation was of limited use at the time due to the volcano in the north and Chile’s rugged terrain to the south. Sea evacuation was the only viable option and ships like Navimag were vital to saving lives.

There is no doubt that the primary concern in these early days following the earthquake remain with the people directly affected by it. However, knowing the interdependencies of southern Chile on Navimag , my thoughts inevitably drift to the yet unknown secondary and tertiary impacts of the earthquake. Chile is a strong, able and competent country. But, given that 2 out of its 16 million citizens are affected, it is clear that it has a long, difficult recovery road ahead of it.

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