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Earthquake!

The following is general advice and information. Please consult your local authorities for your specific situation and needs.

Chile has five main fault lines and in the past month has experienced approximately 30 earthquakes. Most of those earthquakes are so small or far away that you might not even notice them, or by the time you realized you experienced one it’s already over.

Sometimes there are larger quakes that you can’t miss, like the one that happened on Thursday October 11th, 2012. I was sitting with a friend on the 7th floor of a building in Las Condes, Santiago, when the room started to move. At first it felt like someone was running past in the hall but then the whole building got into the act and started to sway back and forth. It was all over in less than a minute but it was my first earthquake and I wasn’t really sure what to expect. When we walked out into the hall and looked around the office, we were the only ones seemingly concerned, everyone else had already returned to typing on their keyboards. It was a 5.7 magnitude earthquake 50 miles outside of Santiago. There were no announcements and no visible damage, although the cell phone lines were jammed so I couldn’t make any calls.

Tip: In case of emergency it’s often easier to send text messages rather than make calls due to increased usage. Since the Internet was working I sent a quick email home telling my friends and family not to worry if they saw it on the news.

Everything was fine but it got me thinking, what to do if another big quake hits, was I prepared? As a tourist it’s more difficult to prepare for such a thing, but it’s still a good idea to read up on safety in case you encounter a natural disaster during your trip. Depending on your situation the following websites Ready.gov and The Red Cross offer information for you to follow and tips for preparing for an earthquake.

It’s always a good idea to travel with a flashlight and small first aid kit. Aside from that, if you’re traveling to Chile, avoid putting breakable or heavy objects on high shelves in your hotel or apartment, keep some bottled water on hand and know where your emergency items, I.D. and money are, just in case. If you experience an earthquake the experts say that if you’re in a safe area to just stay put until it’s over. If you’re near any heavy objects that could fall over, try to get away from them and/or cover your head. Keep in mind that buildings are heavy objects, and pieces could fall off, if you’re outside try to get to an open area and then wait. After it’s over if there’s no damage you can go about your day as normal; if there is damage, stay calm and seek out emergency assistance based on your situation.

If you have a phone you can call the authorities but remember they will probably only have Spanish-speaking operators. A good way to remember the numbers is “ABC and 123”:

Ambulance (Ambulancias): 131

Firemen (Bomberos): 132

Police (Carabineros): 133

This is also the point where you’ll be grateful if you learned if your country has an embassy in Santiago or elsewhere in Chile. In case of severe damage, you can contact your embassy to get information and possibly help if needed. If you go in person, take your passport with you as you’ll need it to gain access. If you’re from the U.S.A., you should register with the US embassy to receive text and/or email alerts from the embassy regarding potentially dangerous situations for citizens. In case of an emergency they will provide you with further instructions. For other countries, check with your embassy to see if they offer similar alerts. See here for a list of international embassies all around Chile.

If you are injured, seek out assistance at your local hospital. You may have to walk if public transport is interrupted. It’s good to note the nearest clinic and emergency room upon your arrival in Chile. You’ll probably never need to go, but if you ever do you’ll be glad you checked. Allianz’s website lists English-speaking doctors.

If you think you felt an earthquake but aren’t sure, you can check on the USGS website , or the Centro Sismológico Nacional Universidad de Chile, though it can take 30-60 minutes for the quake to be added, depending on the intensity. Don’t be surprised if you’re a little shaken up if you do experience an earthquake. I know I was, later that evening the flagpoles outside the window were moving back and forth and even though I knew it was windy, I kept checking to see if the room was shaking again!

Note: This article was accurate when published. Please be sure to confirm all details directly with the sites in question before planning your trip.

To learn more about Beth, read her bio!