Part two: natural disasters are inevitable; those of the fashion variety are not.

Freelance journalist Laura Burgoine writes: The recent spate of natural disasters casting a path of destruction across the planet with the same vigour as Lindsay Lohan on a bender reinforces two things for me. Firstly that we can’t ever truly be prepared for what life throws our way and secondly that some forces just can’t be stopped.

In my first Back in a Bit post about Chile I argued the merits of being underprepared when traveling, so it seems only natural I should now extend this theory to Acts of God.

Having survived the biggest earthquake for 50 years, the 8.8 magnitude quake that struck Chile in February 2010, I quickly took it upon myself to become quite blasé in the face of disaster. Of course at the time my fearlessness was fueled by the most seductive of temptresses: mediocre fame brought on by five minutes of local media attention. My meteoric rise to small-scale notoriety was born from a few phone interviews with Australian radio shows, and a 30-second cameo on Channel Nine’s 6 o’clock news. Remember even the chk-chk boom girl had her fifteen minutes.

It’s probably important to point out that I was in Santiago at the time the disaster struck, not at the epicentre of the earthquake. But nonetheless I was there, in the country, and I was completely unprepared.

The quake struck at around 3am, and I, like many others woken by the shaking, initially believed it to be just a tremor. When I heard plates and glasses smashing in the kitchen of my apartment and saw the seven pairs of high heels that stood on a shelf in my room hurtling towards me, I realized it was perhaps more serious.

While death by stiletto momentarily seemed a poetic and glamourous way to meet my end instead I leapt to my feet in panic and raced for the door. As I stood looking up at the ceiling, certain it would crumble on top of me, I was completely frozen. It was suddenly very apparent to me that I had no idea what to do in an earthquake. Stand in a door-frame? Evacuate? Stop, drop, roll? I can even recall looking over at my wardrobe and wondering if I should get inside it.

Instead I’m embarrassed to say my distorted mind flashed back to an old episode of Home and Away where the residents of Summer Bay experienced a truly horrifying earthquake (as Palm Beach in New South Wales is so renowned for). Unfortunately, while my mind had held onto the memory of an artistically choreographed scene involving a water glass shaking on a mantle piece adorned with family photos of Pippa, Michael and their slew of foster kids, it had not held onto the ending of that episode, or the safety message one would hope would be relayed to viewers for future situations like mine.

But, I am at best a multi-tasker and also managed to scrounge through a sea of clothes to find an outfit that I hoped would not offend the fashion police who I was certain would later pull my body out from the rubble. If these were truly my final moments on earth I was determined not to spend them in a navy and black ensemble! I’m pretty convinced the gate-keepers to the after-life are no different to earth-bound nightclub bouncers and retain some kind of no-sneakers/ no denim rule to keep the riffraff out.

It was while wrestling with these philosophical and fashion-related dilemmas that I found one of the only sensible items I had brought to Chile: a torch. In that moment I was smugness personified as I shone my way out of the apartment through the dust, darkness and broken glass.

The city streets outside were a somewhat spectacular sight. Thousands of people milled about, talking, waiting, smoking cigarettes, and looking around trying to convey the magnitude of what had just occurred. The whole city was in darkness, smashed glass covered the roads, but there was an eerie sense of calm. The expats were noticeably frightened but the Chileans remained quite unflustered.

In the days following constant news updates flowed as people tried to comprehend the severity of the disaster. Aftershocks continued, some of them incredibly strong, but things returned to normal almost unusually quickly. The general philosophy of the Chileans was that the show must go on. And it did.

If anything 2010 was a remarkable year for Chile and really put it on the map. The skinny seismic country endured a historical earthquake and subsequent tsunami, several smaller earthquakes, and of course the Chilean miners catastrophe, but remained resilient and emerged quite triumphant.

In some instances all the preparation in the world won’t save you. Nor will seven pairs of high heels or a soap opera flashback. Coming down from a dramatic disaster the concerned messages dry up, the news crews stop calling, but the show must go on. And it always does.

Watch this space for the third and final installment of this blog as Laura backtracks to her first days in Chile, working in a newsroom that was actually a garden-shed.


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Peter Fray
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