NEW YORK, USA, 16 April 2010 – More than six weeks after a major earthquake struck Chile, survivors in some areas are resuming their normal routines. For young people, that means getting back to regular classes.
The 8.8-magnitude quake left hundreds of people dead and caused widespread damage to infrastructure. Students in some of the worst-affected regions were out of school for weeks, and an estimated 80,000 students are still out.
María Belén Peralta Reyes, 17, was able to return to school after a month. In a recent telephone interview with UNICEF Radio from her home in Chillán, Chile, she shared her experiences during the earthquake and its aftermath.
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Damage in Chillán
María was watching television when the quake struck, causing significant damage in her town, which is located in the Biobío Region, about 400 km south of the capital, Santiago.
“In Chillán, there was no telephone service and no running water or electricity for at least five days,” she said.
The wall that separates the Reyes family’s property from neighbouring homes was damaged, but María said she was thankful that her family’s house survived without any structural damage.
School closed for repairs
Although her school also managed to avoid major exterior damage, items inside the building were shaken up considerably and the school wasn’t able to reopen right away.
During the month it was closed for repairs and clean-up, María, a 12th grade student, said she could have had much more time to prepare for university entrance exams and review subjects with her teachers. Instead, she had to study by herself and enrol in an outside pre-college programme to keep from falling behind.
But María said many others in Chillán fared much worse after their schools collapsed.
“Those students had to be relocated in other centres, which obviously could hurt the quality of their education,” she said.
Concerns about security
While a sense of normalcy has returned to many areas of their lives, María and her friends still have concerns about their security after the earthquake.
“I live next to a prison, and when I went out of my house, the prisoners were escaping,” María recalled. “That scared me much more than the earthquake because of the danger. With the prisoners escaping, anything could have happened.”
Even now, she added, “there is a certain fear of going out in the street sometimes.”
Unity among youth
Despite such challenges, María noted, young people in Chillán have played a big role in recovery efforts – including supporting those who were injured or left homeless by the quake.
“We’ve done this by either building temporary houses or delivering food, or just listening to people,” she said. “The country in general has stood very united, and young people even more so.”