On Saturday at 3:34 a.m., an 8.8 magnitude earthquake struck Chile.
The three Penn undergraduates currently studying abroad in Santiago, Chile are all “safe,” Executive Director of the Office of International Programs Anne Waters confirmed on Saturday.
But students reported having trouble reaching their relatives in Chile.
College freshman Franco Nilo, whose family lives in Concepcion, “hasn’t been able to get in contact with anybody,” he said, due to telephone and Internet lines being down across the city.
“I was looking at some of the footage, and it choked me up a little to see people living on the streets,” he said.
The epicenter of the second earthquake to hit the Western hemisphere in six weeks was about 70 miles from Concepcion, Chile’s second-largest city, where almost two million people have been displaced from their homes.
And according to the Associated Press, about 500,000 homes in Chile have been severely damaged.
Among these is Engineering freshman Camila Robles-Oteiza’s grandfather’s home, which collapsed during the earthquake.
Robles-Oteiza, who went to high school in Concepcion, has not been able to contact her classmates, although she has heard rumors about their wellbeing.
“I heard about a classmate that broke his spine and might not be able to walk,” she said.
As an international student from Chile, Robles-Oteiza felt the devastation of the earthquake more deeply than most Penn students, she said.
“I recognize so many places,” she said of her experience seeing Chile on the news.
“I’ve been on that highway, I’ve been on that bridge, I’ve driven past that building. It’s the strangest thing to know that they’re just gone,” she said.
Though he isn’t quite as familiar with the country as Robles-Oteiza, College senior David Frias described himself as an emotional “wreck” after hearing the news.
Frias, whose family lives in Santiago, Chile’s capital, said he was in “a state of disbelief” after hearing about the damage.
“My jaw was wide open,” he said. “The first thing I did was call my family.”
Although his family is safe, he said he greatly sympathizes with the people of Chile.
“You look at the images on TV, you see the destruction, and your heart really goes out to everybody that lost someone,” he said.
Despite the extensive destruction, he is optimistic about a quick recovery.
Because Chile is located in one of the most seismically active regions in the world, the country is prepared to deal with this, he explained.
Although repairs will take a long time, Frias estimates that airports and most major facilities will reopen within a couple of weeks.
Nilo, however, said the damage goes beyond infrastructure.
“It’s a big step back for our country,” he said. “Instead of moving forward into the new, we now have to rebuild the old.”