About six months ago I came to Santiago to work as an employee of an Indian IT firm – I am originally from Kolkata. I was at my friend’s apartment on the third floor of an eight-storey building in Las Condos when, at around 3.35am on Saturday, the earthquake occurred.
The whole building began swaying, the furniture was shaking violently and things were thrown off the shelves. I had never experienced an earthquake before so I panicked. I ran out of the room as fast as I could and left everything behind. All I could do before running out was to shut my laptop and put on my slippers.
On reaching the passage I sensed the magnitude of what was going on outside. Lot of people was desperately running along the narrow passage and down the staircase. People were pushing and tumbling over each other to get out of the building. There was utter chaos and a lot of noise. My legs were shaky and I had trouble keeping straight while running. Then the passage lights went off – creating more panic.
Though the emergency lights were on, it was still very dim and I had to grope in the semi-dark to find my way down the rocking staircase. I knew the stairs pretty well so managed to keep going in the right direction. I had to jump over fallen bodies to reach the streets outside.
The quake was at its peak and taxis on the street were rocking and alarms were making loud noises. I reached a safe place away from possible hazards such as other buildings, electric poles and collapsing trees. I was scared and friends from the building held each other's hands. I think the quake lasted over two minutes but it seemed like the longest two minutes of my life. I was in a state of shock and felt disoriented.
We were fortunate that our building was strong enough to withstand the earthquake. None of us received any injuries except for minor bruises. Once the earthquake stopped my first instinct was to get back to my apartment. I gathered some courage and returned to my room to collect my cell phone and wallet and rushed out again. In the short time I was in my bedroom I had noticed wide cracks all over the walls and ceiling.
I tried to call my family in India and friends here but I couldn’t connect because the mobile network was down. Myself, four friends and five other Indian families headed off to find other office colleagues. I could see lot of people out in the streets with scared expressions, thanking God for saving their lives and that of their loved ones. When I reached my friend's place I saw them sitting outside their apartment. We hugged each other with relief.
Buses and vehicles had jammed the street. People were getting into their vehicles and moving out. Police sirens, ambulances and fire engines ciould be heard everywhere. Later, we decided to spend rest of the night in the lobby of our building. We were hungry so went to the nearest supermarket but the night guard was locked behind some electric doors due to power failure. The police had to break open the glass doors and let him out.
The next morning I went back into my apartment and tried to get some sleep. At around 7.45am there was another quake. I ran out and waited for some time before I returned. Once partial power was restored I switched on the television set. I heard the news that the worst place to be hit was Concepcion. Seeing live coverage of the destruction of houses and the loss of life made me thank God that I was lucky to be alive.
Here in Santiago the major problem was that the basic services were badly hit. Power, water and gas supplies were affected. My building power was restored on Monday evening. Shops remained closed until Sunday. The metro was closed for a day. Some restaurants opened on Sunday. The only one open near my place was a Domino's pizza outlet near Tobalaba metro station. There was a huge crowd gathered outside the shop.
On Monday the offices opened but the attendance were poor. Most of them decided to remain at homes with lot of aftershocks occurring repeatedly. Most employers had made it optional for employees to go into the office, especially in high rises. People resorted to working from home as much as possible.
The police here in Santiago are helping to provide relief operations to those affected. There was no looting at my place though I heard of looting happening in suburbs outside Santiago in places like Maipu and Talca.
I have still not fully recovered from the shock that I went through and badly need a break. I am lucky to have survived the ordeal and will be flying back to India next week to be with my family.
• Arnab Mallick was speaking to journalist Rajen Nai