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ND students studying in Santiago relate experiences of earthquake

| Friday, September 18, 2015

Traveling abroad can be an overwhelming experience, even without a natural disaster.

For junior John Huber, one of 13 Notre Dame students spending the fall semester in Santiago, Chile, the 8.3-magnitude earthquake that struck the country Wednesday was “an interesting welcome to Chilean culture.”

“When the earthquake was going on, I felt a mixture of excitement and uncertainty,” Huber said in an email. “… I think our group as a whole was a little bit shaken, but we’re completely fine.”

According to an article from The Weather Channel, the earthquake — which was centered 145 miles north-northwest of Santiago — resulted in 15-foot tsunami waves along Chile’s coastline, as well as tsunami warnings in locations as far as Hawaii, California and even Japan. The same article said the earthquake has directly or indirectly caused at least 11 deaths.

All 13 Notre Dame students studying abroad in Santiago were unharmed.

Junior Rachel Francis said her parents were visiting her from the U.S. when the earthquake hit. They had taken a trip to the coast and were preparing to go out to dinner when they felt the first tremors, she said.

“I felt pretty terrified initially and was having a hard time rushing to get my shoes on, but at the same time felt this need to stay calm, especially for my parents,” Francis said in an email. “Chile is such a seismic country, and I had felt some really little tremors before, but nothing like this.

“And I just felt the need to kind of guide my parents — it felt like the roles were switched — because they were here visiting me in my now second home.”

Junior Jackie Bruns said from what she’s seen, the earthquake has caused relatively little damage to the country’s capital.

“I was in the metro when the earthquake happened,” Bruns said in an email. “I only knew it was happening because all the little old ladies stopped and looked up at the lights swinging above them.

“You couldn’t feel much in the metro. But once I got home, I could feel the aftershocks which were actually pretty big. I live in an apartment on the 19th floor, and all the paintings were swaying and it was pretty crazy.”

J. Nicholas Entrikin, vice president and associate provost for internationalization, said the University took immediate action upon receiving news of the earthquake. Notre Dame has a standard procedure in place for establishing contact with students and their host families in the wake of national disasters, he said.

“As soon as we heard about the event, which was just a couple hours after it happened I think, we started our basic communication process to make sure that everyone was safe,” he said.

Much of the responsibility for contacting students in the aftermath of the earthquake fell to director of the Notre Dame Santiago program Esteban Montes. Montes said in an email that in such circumstances, Notre Dame has “a very clear protocol to follow.”

“The first thing is to do is to gather information from all students in order to know how, where and with whom they are,” Montes said. “So I immediately assumed that task until I was sure every student was okay and safe.”

This is not the first time Notre Dame has dealt with an event like Wednesday’s quake in Chile. Entrikin said several years ago, the University had to evacuate students studying in Japan following the 2011 tsunami and subsequent nuclear meltdown.

“We monitor the situation as best we can, we have people on the ground — those are our usual points of contact,” he said. “… Each situation is unique but we have a protocol for reaching out to students and staying in close communication with them.”

Editor’s Note: News Editor Margaret Hynds contributed to this report.

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