Local Businessman Has Family Ties To Chilean Earthquake Disaster

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by Ralph Nichols

Sixty-four hundred miles – the distance from Sea-Tac International Airport to Santiago, Chile – is a long way. It’s a lot farther still if you’re here and have immediate family members in earthquake-ravaged Chile.

Patricio Mendoza, the owner of EC Computers in downtown Des Moines, knows this all too well.

For almost 48 hours after an 8.8 magnitude earthquake rocked Chile on Feb. 27, Mendoza could only wonder how his son Victor, his father Humbetor, his sister Cecilia, and his niece Erika Cecilia (who lives in the Seattle area, and whose initials give the computer shop its name) had survived.

Communications with the outside world are difficult with widespread power outages and many of the country’s cell phone towers knocked down. Mendoza has since been told the tremor “was so big,” and “lasted so long and was so strong.”

Despite his anxiety, he hoped and prayed for the best – and waited for their calls.

Then late Sunday and again on Monday he finally heard from his niece and his sister. Both were well – and they had word that Victor, who lives near Viña del Mar, a seaside community of almost 300,000 where Mendoza is from, was OK too.

But there was nothing like hearing his son confirm this himself when, at last, Victor called him Tuesday evening.

These reports brought welcome news because “at first I thought the worst,” Mendoza said. “This was one of the biggest earthquakes we have ever had. The destruction is total. It’s all around.”

Patricio Mendoza spoke with B-Town Blog Reporter Ralph Nichols.

Mendoza is still waiting for word about his 80-year-old father Humbetor, who he assumes is OK but who lives where power remains out.

In an irony of timing, Mendoza returned only a month ago from a six-week trip to his home town, which is not far from Santiago, the nation’s capital, and an extended visit with his relatives who live in that region.

He also accompanied his niece there. Cecilia, 19, had “worked for the last year to pay for her dream trip to Chile,” he told the B-Town Blog this week.

“She was supposed to get back to the states on March 1. Her flight was scheduled for Feb. 28.” But with canceled flights and possible damage to airport runways, “she’s still stuck down there.” If everything goes all right, he said, she now should return on March 9.

Cecilia sounded much calmer than she did in her first call just a couple of days after the quake, which continues to be followed by strong aftershocks, he added.

Mendoza’s first reaction after hearing about the earthquake was, “I want to get a ticket and go there. The first thing I wanted to do is help my family. But the airlines have raised the ticket price four times or more for this tragedy.

“I still plan to go when the price goes back down. I can’t afford it now. I want to see how my father is doing and how my son is doing. I want to see my father personally because he’s 80 years old and alone. I know he will say he’s OK, but I still want to know.

Map courtesy www.usgs.gov

“It’s pretty bad to be this far away and not be able to go down and help,” he said.

And after helping his family, Mendoza also wants to do what he can – including taking clothing and other necessities – to help others there who are trying to rebuild their lives and property.

“People are hungry, people are upset. I’ve been in strong earthquakes where aftershocks continue for days. You feel so little after that. You cannot sleep in the day. You cannot sleep at night. You have no peace. It takes weeks to recover.”

Mendoza said that although he’s not there now, “at least I can bring some of the resources they need to them” if he can find a way to get there.

“A lot of people from Des Moines have called or stopped by the shop, concerned about my niece and my family,” he continued. “I thank all of you for your moral support. It has really helped.”

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