By Carolyn Clark and Shaun Janis
Leilani Mroczkowski, a junior in the College of Arts & Sciences, is studying abroad in Chile this semester. She and 18 other SU students survived Saturday’s magnitude 8.8 earthquake. Mroczkowski, who answered questions through e-mail Sunday night, said that SU Abroad officials have handled the situation “poorly.”
Q: Where were you when the earthquake hit? Were you with people? What were you doing?
A: I was sleeping in my room. It occurred at about 3:30 a.m. Chilean time. My host parents were across the hall.
Q: Did you realize what was going on? If not, what were you thinking?
A: I did not realize what was going on. I actually did not wake up from the movement (I’m an extremely hard sleeper). My host dad came into my room and grabbed me out of bed to go to the safe zone in our house. I was so tired and disoriented that I really did not grasp what was going on until we were all downstairs. I remember not being able to walk very well due to the hard shaking. I was clutching on to my host dad’s arm and he was guiding me to the safe zone.
Q: How were any people around you reacting? Was it chaotic?
A: I live with a younger couple and they were quite calm. The couple brought me to the safe zone, where I sat with my host mom. We lit some candles because the power was out, and my dad left the house to check on the neighbors and make sure that everyone was alright.
Q: What was going through your head at the time? And how are you holding up now?
A: I was very confused. They had told us that tremors were common, although it was very unlikely that a earthquake would occur. I kept wondering if this was a tremor. The shaking was intense. I was very calm because my host parents were very calm. I didn’t think there was anything to be worried about. Now, I’m just in shock. I’ve been watching the news and seeing the destruction in Concepción and Constitucíon and it’s just awful. Up until today my host mom could not contact her family. Her family lives in Concepción, where the earthquake hit the hardest, so it wave very emotional up until they finally called us at about 8 p.m. today.
Q: What does the damage look like?
A: We were instructed not to leave our homes. We’re allowed to take short walks near our homes but we are not to go downtown, etc. Where I live the damage was minimal. Most of the Syracuse University students live in good neighborhoods where the homes are well constructed. Our home suffered absolutely no damage. There is a little damage to the patio, but it doesn’t be repaired. I went on a walk with my host dad and cousin today and say a few piles of rubble where parts of buildings fell apart, but in my area there have been no major collapses.
Q: How have the local authorities been handling the situation? What have they been advising people to do? Do you think they’re doing a good job of keeping things together while keeping people as calm as possible?
A: It’s not that bad in Santiago. I do not know how the authorities are handling it here. Much of the coverage on the news has been focused on Concepción. Right now the people there have no water, electricity, phone access. We’ve seen on the news that people are looting the stores to get food, water, but also taking TVs and things like that. Today they sent the military to control the situation.
Q: Were you able to get in contact with your family quickly? Did you talk to them first or did SU alert them that you were safe before you got in contact?
A: After the earthquake my host family and I stayed awake for about 30 minutes and then we returned to bed. The university contacted my family at around 4:30 a.m. central time when I was still sleeping. When I woke up I e-mailed them (I do not have a cell phone here yet) and we talked via email and then later via Skype.
Q: Besides your family, have you been able to get in contact with people easily? Have you talked to friends at SU or from home?
A: My house didn’t lose electricity and the Internet still works, so I was able to contact people immediately.
Q: How has life changed in the past day since the earthquake hit? What do you expect to happen in the next few days?
A: We can’t leave our homes. A lot of phone calls are being made to my house to check on family members and friends. My cousin’s apartment building was severely damaged so he’s staying in the extra room. A friend of my host mom stayed over last night. There’s been incredible community unification. Everybody is helping everybody. My parents are already returning to work tomorrow. My host parents told me that Chileans are very progressive. Reconstruction is already in process. They are already trying to return their lives back to normal.
Q: How has SU Abroad been handling the situation?
A: Poorly. The university has not sent me anything. I received e-mails from SU staff in Chile asking if we are okay; they thanked us for being brave and patient, and gave us some further instruction. I have yet to receive anything from SU back home, and I think that’s a shame.
Q: Are there any plans for any changes for the program? Will you be staying in Santiago or relocating at all? Would you want to relocate?
A: We are not relocating. We were supposed to have orientation tomorrow, but as of right now all events are cancelled. Classes in Chile don’t start until March 8 because we are in southern hemisphere and it’s summer right now.
Q: How are your host families holding up? This must be a terrible experience for them.
A: They are doing very well since they have finally heard from their family in Concepción. There were tears of relief.
Q: What are the dangers right now?
A: There are no immediate dangers to us. The major problem is that many towns are left with no water or electricity. Many people are homeless and sleeping on the streets in cities that were hit very hard.