Former Hillsboro resident Flaim survives Chile quake
As an earthquake surged beneath the South American country of Chile on February 27, former Pocahontas County resident Kevin Flaim found himself in the middle of a nightmare.
"I had been asleep for about two hours when the earthquake woke me up by introducing itself with a low rumble and subtle vibration," Flaim said.
Flaim, who lives in a 13-story apartment building in Santiago, said earthquakes occur frequently in the area and he had experienced several small 10-second tremors, but none of them compared to this earthquake.
"My apartment building shuddered steadily for the first 30 seconds," he explained. "I managed to remain completely calm during that span of time. I remember thinking to myself, 'man, this one's taking forever. I'm glad the earthquakes around here are pretty much never dangerous.' My train of thought changed drastically over the next minute, which seemed more like an hour."
Acting on his first instinct, Flaim rushed to get dressed and tried to leave the building.
"There was a deep, loud boom and the building jolted heavily as if it had been struck by a bomb," he recalled. "I was getting ready to run like a mad man out the door and start down the stairs, but I only took a couple of steps before it became extremely difficult to remain on my feet. The bombing effect had returned, only this time it was continual.
"The room around me rocked violently for the next 40 seconds," he added. "It was like riding in a small boat over very choppy water or flying in a plane during horrid turbulence."
Flaim weighed his options and decided leaving was not feasible at the moment.
"I realized that it would be almost impossible to run down 13 flights of stairs before the earthquake was over and jumping off of the balcony wouldn't be very wise, so I sat back down on my bed and waited," he said. "I'm not too proud to admit that I was utterly frozen in fear. All I could do when I heard things crashing down in the other rooms, in the hallway and in the neighboring apartments, was imagine what my last few moments would be like if the building gave in and cascaded to the ground."
As Flaim's senses were flooded by the quake, he felt the stomach-churning sense that there wouldn't be many survivors. Fortunately, he said, the quake soon dissipated after a brief final rumble.
Once it seemed safe, Flaim and his neighbors began to assess the damage.
"Nearly everything in the apartments on my floor that was movable or could fall down, moved or fell down," he said. "There were several large unnerving cracks spanning vertically along the concrete walls of the hallway and a couple of people were trapped in their apartments because their doorways had changed shape, wedging the doors closed."
The following hours and days consisted of restoration and seeking assistance.
"My neighbors and I spent a considerable amount of time taking apart jammed doors and lowering large pieces of unstable furniture to the ground immediately after the earthquake," Flaim said. "The next couple of days were spent restoring our apartments and seeking out places in the city where we could get food and water, contact our families, listen to the news and safely endure the aftershocks that occurred at least once per hour."
The majority of the structures in Santiago were designed to be earthquake resistant, Flaim explained and found, to his surprise, that only two buildings were significantly affected in the Las Condes region.
"One of them [the buildings] was an old church from which the wooden steeple tumbled and the other was an even older church that had collapsed completely," he said. "Other cities in Chile, such as Concepcion, Talcauano, Arauco, Lota, Chiguayanto, Canete and San Antonio suffered much greater consequences.
"There have been close to 800 deaths reported to date," he continued. "The earthquake's wake of destruction spans 600 miles and its subsequent tsunami pummeled thousands of miles of shoreline."
Flaim said he and his friends have tried to assist with recovery efforts but the people of Santiago are being encouraged to stay put. He added that the airports and major highways are still closed.
Flaim, the son of Susan Chappell, ofﾠ Hillsboro, is an Antenna Acceptance Engineer at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory in Chile. He and his group of engineers are responsible for the acceptance testing of 23 North American-made antennas for the ALMA (Atacama Large Millimeter/Sub-Millimeter Array) project in the Atacama Desert in Chile.
The ALMA project site is 1,000 miles north-east of Santiago and only suffered loss of power and communications during the earthquake.
Many organizations are accepting donations for the Chile earthquake relief fund. The American Red Cross International Relief Fund can be contacted at 1-800-REDCROSS; The Salvation Army is taking donations online at www.Salvation Army USA.org; and Habitat for Humanity is also accepting donations online at www.Habitat.org.