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ND students in Chile unharmed in earthquake

Madeline Buckley | Monday, March 1, 2010

Junior Cari Pick was chatting with friends online early Saturday morning in Santiago, Chile, when the Internet cut out and her building began to sway.

“My initial reaction was to stare out the window at nearby buildings to see if any of them were collapsing. Luckily, they were not,” Pick said of Saturday’s earthquake. “My host mother told me in Spanish that the safest place to stay was inside our building, which had been built to withstand earthquakes.”

Pick is one of 19 undergraduate students studying abroad in the South American country for the spring semester. The University confirmed Saturday that all Notre Dame students and faculty in Chile are safe after an 8.8-magnitude earthquake struck the country.

All the students studying in Chile live with host families, and after the earthquake, Pick said she immediately tried to reach other students.

“I spent the next few hours frantically trying to contact other students to make sure they were alright as well,” she said. “The phone systems are unreliable right now.”

The University also reported that five graduate students participating in the Alliance for Catholic Education program, three staff members and members of the Congregation of Holy Cross working in Chile are safe.

“For the second time this semester, we are immensely grateful that Notre Dame students, faculty and staff are safe in the wake of a devastating natural disaster,” University President Fr. John Jenkins said in a press release. “As was the case last month for Haitians after an earthquake hit that nation, the prayers of the Notre Dame family now are with the people of Chile.”

The University offers most of the abroad program’s classes at the Pontificia Universidad Catolica, a Catholic university in Santiago. The students arrived in the Chilean capital Thursday after completing a three-week program in the rural Chilean town of Linares. They were originally scheduled to start classes in the city Wednesday.

Pick said the students have been told, however, they will start classes March 8, and the academic facilities are relatively undamaged.

Junior Alex Barker, an Observer Sports writer participating in the Chile study abroad program, said the students were lucky they arrived in Santiago when they did.

“The pre-program took place in a less developed area that was much closer to the epicenter [of the earthquake]. It took a great deal more damage,” he said. “Buildings we were in just last week now lay flattened and destroyed.”

Barker said most students are fortunate to be living in buildings meant to withstand earthquakes.

“Most of us live in some of the nicest parts of Santiago so the houses are much sturdier, and from what I’ve heard thus far, did not take any significant damage,” he said.

The Associated Press is reporting the death toll to be more than 700 with nearly two million displaced by the earthquake.

With unreliable communication, Pick said many students are not sure how the next few weeks will go, but many will try to get involved in the relief efforts if possible.

“One of the main reasons many of us chose the Chile program is for its Chilean Poverty and Development service class, and once we find out what we can do to help, we will try to do whatever we can to get involved,” she said.