I grew up on the West Coast in a family where having 72 hour kits and food storage was a normal part of our daily life. During college, I worked for an emergency preparedness company and taught people how to be prepared for natural disasters. I spent most of my life feeling prepared and confident that I knew what to do if a big earthquake struck. I never thought I would experience an earthquake while traveling.
Imagine my surprise when one night, a couple of years ago, I experienced a major earthquake while traveling alone with my three young children in Santiago, Chile. We were just beginning our three month stay at the Grand Hyatt Santiago (now Hotel Santiago). I had just gotten my older two to sleep in the other room and was working on getting my baby to sleep when the shaking started.
I soon learned it was an 8.3 magnitude quake and the initial tremors lasted for three to five minutes.
Experiencing An Earthquake While Traveling
At first I didn’t realize what was happening but I quickly realized and rushed to wake my children in order to get to a safe space. Despite the noise from the pictures hitting the walls, lamps falling over, and the chandelier jingling around, I couldn’t wake them. They stayed put and I did my best to keep them safe while they laid asleep in bed.
The Aftershocks Began
Luckily I was able to get my husband and mom on the phone before they heard about the earthquake on the news. While I was on the phone with my mom, the aftershocks started.
With each rumble, my anxiety level got higher and higher. I wasn’t sure if we needed to evacuate the building. I was concerned about what I would do with two very heavy sleeping kids and a baby if evacuation ended up being necessary.
Time to Take Action
To put my mind somewhat at ease, I looked around the hotel and gathered items for a “go bag”. A “go bag” is a small bag with a few essentials you can grab in case of evacuation. Once I packed up a few diapers, wipes, snacks, and changes of clothes, I started to feel better.
Some aftershocks were quite strong and each one sent a new wave of panic through my body. That night, there were over 70 aftershocks. One was a magnitude 7 and six were a magnitude 6 or above. I didn’t end up sleeping much.
Looking Back on My Experience With an Earthquake While Traveling
I’m glad Santiago is prepared for large earthquakes and the infrastructure handles the strain of large earthquakes. It was calming to know I had a few things in my hotel room to help get through an evacuation.
Most of all, I’m grateful for the eye opening experience that it was. I had never stopped to think about how I would handle an earthquake while traveling in a foreign country.
I hope you will come back as I continue to share things I learned after the earthquake. Some of the topics will include, resources you’ll want after a natural disaster, small things to toss in your suitcase to help you be better prepared, and what the hotel staff did following the earthquake.
Have you ever experienced an natural disaster while traveling?
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8.3 is massive. I have been though high 5’s and those are not much but a definite shake.
Here’s some retroactive quarterbacking. You should have waken the kids more. How young? As they get older, they can be awakened. Also evacuation from buildings is often wise, not staying inside like if there’s one shooter on the loose. If one stays inside, collection of water is useful. Fill up the tub and whatever containers you have.
I’ll agree that I probably should have done more to try to wake my older kids. Luckily, there weren’t any problems and I was somewhat less concerned because we were in a wing of the hotel that was only a couple of stories high and we had nothing but a garden area on top of our room.
Honestly, I froze a bit. All of the kids were under 4 at the time and I wasn’t sure how I would evacuate the building with all of them by myself (my husband was in the US at the time). I would be a bit less concerned if it happened now since they are older.
What a story. How did you keep it to yourself until now? I’m sure you could write a longer version with some fascinating details if you wanted to.
I have never been in an 8 earthquake, but I was on the 9th floor of a Los Angeles hotel during the ’87 Whittier quake. Bad enough to throw the water out of the toilet, and scare the life out of the out-of-staters, but nothing compared to what you went through.
Like you, the first thing I did was call home (mom) before she saw it on the news.
Joseph N. – I actually wrote a good bit about it on my personal blog at the time. Keep your eye out for some more posts here about things I learned! It was an eye opening experience for sure!
Survived??? Nobody really dies in Chile on mega Earthquakes. Death tolls are very low to almost none and construction is very resistant (flexible). Those who persish are mostly of heart attacks because they are not used to it and panick.
I grew up in Chile, but now live in the DC area. Growing up i lived through several “good ones”…
Well, I am glad you made it.
Thanks for the well wishes! I will say, of all the places to experience a huge earthquake, I think Santiago would be preferred. If I understand correctly, after a particularly large earthquake that resulted in a high number of deaths, building codes were written to require buildings to stand up to massive quakes.
I was in our room on the second floor when the quake happened but I spoke to an employee in the lounge towards the top of the building. He said it was crazy to stand there and watch the other tall buildings sway.