'The last wave almost wiped the village off the map'

Tue, Mar 2, 2010, 00:00

COASTAL DEVASTATION:THE SUN had barely risen over the Chilean fishing town of Dichato on Saturday morning when the three giant waves roared in from the Pacific.

The first two surges startled the town’s 7,000 residents, who had already been violently awakened by the earthquake that wrought destruction across a swathe of central Chile. But it was the third surge, a huge wall of water, that tore up and smashed houses, swept cars out to sea, and sucked people’s possessions into the sea, destroying more than three-quarters of the town’s buildings.

“The last one almost wiped the village off the map,” said David Merino, surrounded by a scene of water-logged destruction in the village, which was among the closest settlements to the 8.8-magnitude quake.

It was still unclear how many people died in Dichato, where distraught residents wandered the town trying to salvage possessions and gazing at their ruined homes.

“We don’t have anything. We lived by fishing, and we lost everything. How are we going to live?” said 50-year-old fisherman Jose Castillo, holding his fishing knife and a bag as he scoured the ruins of the town for food and water. “I had a side business renting chairs and kept the money in a box, but the sea took everything away.”

Other small towns along Chile’s central Pacific coast had similar stories of devastation wrought by three waves triggered by the quake.

In the town of Pichilemu, a tractor towed boats along mud-covered streets after they were picked up and washed inland by the waves. Residents huddled around fires made from the wooden debris of destroyed homes to stay warm.

“There are entire fishing villages wiped out along the coast,” said Jose Gonzalez Catalan. “Each wave was about 3m high and spaced about two or three minutes apart,” he said.

Fishermen in Dichato desperately searched for their boats in the hope of salvaging their livelihoods. Some had been washed far inland into cattle pastures.

“We don’t have anything – houses, boats, food or clothes, but here we are hoping that they will send help,” said fisherman Bernardo Reyes.

“We won’t let this beat us, though – in five years, the town will be back stronger than before.” – (Reuters)