Mane (CRIN 604)

         Digital tools in education

March 1, 2010

Chile’s earthquake and social media

Filed under: Social Media — mepada @ 12:23 am

It is 7:00AM on Saturday morning. A phone call from sister wakes me up. She apologizes to me for calling so early and proceeds to tell me that an 8.8 (or higher) earthquake had hit Chile! I immediately told her I would try to get a hold of the family. I frantically started making phone calls. First to my mother, who is visiting Chile until the end of March. I remembered that she had left to go see some friends in Argentina on Friday – the day before the earthquake hit. I then started calling my brother, his children, my aunts, uncles, first cousins (I have over 50 of them), anyone who would answer the phone! The lines were down and/or I would get a busy signal, and/or a message that told me to try later…frustration was building up! I called the phone operator who suggested I contact the Red Cross. I thought it would be too early for the Red Cross to have a list of names of any useful information.

It occurred to me then that maybe, just maybe the internet could be still “operational”. I turned on my computer and opened my email app, Facebook, Twitter and Skype (all at the same time).

I first posted a message on Twitter: “8.8 earthquake in Chile. I have been trying to reach my family all morning!!” My Twitter account is synched with Facebook so this posting showed up on my “What’s on your mind” box. Immediately I started to get feedback. First, from concerned US friends. Soon after, from my friends from Argentina who were following the news very closely (some of them had felt the impact of the earthquake in Buenos Aires!). Nothing from my family at that point. I was starting to get very nervous! All of a sudden a message! A cousin who was letting me know that he and his family were ok. He had not been able to contact anyone else in Santiago or elsewhere in Chile. Via email I learned from a niece that she also was fine (scared and shaken but ok).Slowly but surely I started to get messages form more members of my family. However, nothing from my brother and his wife and five children.

I discovered – through a message in Facebook – Google Person Finder! I accessed the program and completed several forms with personal info of some of my relatives. I was told that many people were finding their loved ones via this app.

Around 2:00PM I got a call from Wavy Ten asking me if I was willing to do an “on camera” interview. I thought that would be the perfect opportunity to show a picture of my brother and expose it to the world– just in case!

At 4:45PM a journalist and a camera man showed up at our home and recorded an interview that lasted approx. 1 ½ hours. Later I was able to watch myself in the 6:00PM news and then again at 11:00PM! They also showed the picture I had given them of my brother and his family.

Later that night messages to my Facebook and my email staring to pour in! People I did not know were showing their concern and letting me know that we were in their thoughts and prayers! I was deeply touched!

Around 11:30PM I Skyped -and successfully got through- an uncle and aunt. They were re-telling their experience and describing the damages they had incurred when an aftershock hit Chile –again (they had over 69 aftershocks as strong as 7.3). It was such a surreal experience! I was actually watching them (we never lost connection) as the aftershock was taking place. I could see their lamps swaying back and forth. I could see the fear on their faces! When it subsided we decided to hang up our Skype call. They had been up since 3:00AM and had not eaten anything all day!

Finally around midnight I received a Facebook message from my brother’s daughter, Bernardita. Her message did definitively allow me to breathe again! She had been alone in their home in Santiago when the earthquake hit! She reacted in the worse possible way by hiding under her bed! I replied by telling her to remain calm. When I asked her about the rest of the family she proceeded to inform me that even though they were ok their country home (where they had gone for the week-end) had been damaged quite a bit and that since the roads and bridges had collapsed, and all the phone lines were down, she had not spoken to them in a while.

Well…needless to say I did not sleep much at all on Saturday night! I was wired and still very worried about not just my brother but also the rest of the family members who we could not reach!

My relatives asked me to be the one to communicate with the rest of them in Chile as news arrived about family members telling me they were safe. Too much pressure on “just” me! How could I possibly find/reach them all? I contacted via Facebook my cousin Macarena, who lives in Dubai. While the two of us were using the chatting feature  in Facebook, she was skyping her parents while I was emailing other relatives and sending tweets.  Talk about virtual collaboration!

Today I managed to contact my brother via Skype! We spoke for hours! They are still experiencing aftershocks. The reality of the magnitude of this natural disaster was just beginning to sink in. People are sleeping on the streets and/or still looking for their parents/children/relatives. Food and gas are in shortage. Many areas do not have electricity or gas or water!

The only reason I was able to communicate with my family was due to our world-wide wireless infrastructures!

I am so thankful to be living in a time where we have managed to develop technology tools – and more specifically – social networks such as Twitter, Facebook, Skype, Google Person Finder, etc…which allow us to do what only a few years ago we could not have been able to accomplish: Communicating with our loved ones in times of tragedy in less than 24 hrs of it striking!

I will look at these technologies differently from now on! They are not just for “socializing’ they are much, much more!


My brother and his family.

My brother and his family.

 Wavy Ten:


  1. What an experience you’ve had. First of all, I’m so glad your family is OK. Second, you look great on video! Seriously, it is amazing how Facebook, Skype, and email has allowed all of us to remain connected to our families and friends. I love Facebook mainly because it has allowed me to stay connected to my sisters and nieces and nephews. I belong to the Virginia Council for Learning Disabilities (VCLD)and we have difficulty recruiting new members. We opened a Facebook account and now have more educators “friending” us than members in VA. We hope they will join the organization too. Friday I worked at home but had a very productive planning session with a colleague from the TTAC office. We Skyped and were able to work on documents together.

    Comment by Sue Land — March 1, 2010 @ 12:41 pm

  2. I am sooo glad that your family is safe and you have been able to hear from them. I am amazed at how all of these different sites were able to help you and your family reunite with each other as well as stay connected. People joke about how much time we spend on sites like facebook and twitter and how distracting or unproductive these tools can be….HOWEVER, I now have a whole new appreciation for their capabilites not just on a dialy basis, but during a natural disater and time of need! Glad to hear that your family is connected and getting back on their feet!!

    Comment by sljoin — March 1, 2010 @ 3:46 pm

  3. You handled the interview beautifully even under the stress you must have felt. What a well written story and good example of how the world has become a much smaller place with all of these new tools. This was a devastating earthquake for your home country and it will take some time for them to recover.

    Comment by debg — March 1, 2010 @ 9:23 pm

  4. What an amazing story! And I’m also glad your family is safe. Such wide open options for communications. But…I want to see the video! Is is online somewhere? How did Wavy find out about you? From your twittering?

    Comment by KarenR — March 3, 2010 @ 11:00 am

  5. If you click on this link you can view the video interview (press “play”):

    Comment by mepada — March 3, 2010 @ 11:58 am

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