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Chilean earthquake unpleasant wake-up call for international student

By David Sorensen

A Chilean student living in St. John’s is encouraging friends and colleagues to support the reconstruction of her country which was severely damaged in the Feb. 27 earthquake that left as many as 1,000 dead.

Magdalena Ugarte, a master’s student who came from Santiago, Chile, to study political science, said while Chile is a relatively well-off country, the extent of the damage will require foreign aid and years of reconstruction before life returns to normal.

The earthquake measured 8.8 on the Richter scale and was followed by a tsunami. Nearly two million people have been affected by the extensive damage to infrastructure, disruption of power and telecommunications.

Of course, Ms. Ugarte’s first concern was her family in Santiago. While phone lines and electricity were down throughout the country, she was able to contact them using a combination of social media and modern communications.

“My family didn't have telephone lines but had Internet back very soon so they were able to call me to my Skype because I'm always online,” she said. “I was very grateful for communications technologies which before had been for fun or getting in touch in a more informal way ... all those platforms have been absolutely useful for getting touch with relatives within Chile.”

Once she knew her family was safe, her thoughts turned to other relatives and friends throughout the country. Once she understood the magnitude of the quake, she also worried about her the future of her country.

“I know that earthquakes are something that you can expect in a country like Chile. But while I was talking to my mom I realized that it was a horrible earthquake. I was concerned, of course, at the beginning … and then concerned about other people because being here, so far, and not being in touch with people it is always concerning when something like this happens.”

Knowing there was a large Chilean community in Canada, she sought out and found a channel through which people could funnel relief funds.

The Embassy of Chile in Ottawa opened a bank account and funds will be transferred to the National Emergency and Information Office (ONEMI) in Chile. The account is available at ScotiaBank, account number 40006 01408 13.
The Canadian Red Cross is also receiving donations through its website,

Some estimates peg recovery costs above $15 billion, including $5 billion for infrastructure alone.

“If people feel that they can help in any way ... I know that thousands of Chilean families will be very grateful.”