“Members Rebuilding after Chilean Earthquake,” Ensign, May 1985, 106–7
Church members affected by the earthquake in Chile have been busy rebuilding or helping others rebuild ever since the disaster struck on March 3. But along the way they have laid the foundation for future missionary work, according to reports from the area.
Though one Latter-day Saint was injured, Church members and missionaries were fortunate in that none lost their lives. Approximately 150 Chileans were killed and nearly 2,000 injured in the quake. It was estimated shortly afterward that more than 165,000 Chileans were homeless; a number of Latter-day Saints were among them.
Priesthood leaders had quorums checking on members and offering help almost immediately. Members volunteered freely and responded generously to calls for community service. Four Church buildings were used as temporary hospitals; one, in the coastal city of San Antonio, may be used for up to a year.
A national television station broadcast a story very favorable to the Church after visiting the chapel-turned-hospital in San Antonio. Maternity and intensive care wards and operating rooms are inside the branch building. The government has set up additional field hospital facilities in tents outside. Members hold their Sunday meetings in a school across the street, loaned to them by the government.
Coastal areas west of Santiago, the nation’s capital, were hardest hit, along with the central part of Chile. Jeff Allred, director of temporal affairs in the Presiding Bishopric’s Santiago office, said that a number of members were left homeless in the town of Machali; about 95 percent of the dwellings there and in surrounding smaller towns were knocked down by the quake. About thirty member families in Machali will receive, through the Church, small shed-like structures to serve as temporary shelters; some other members will receive building materials to repair their houses. Some families were furnished Church-purchased tents as temporary housing.
Brother Allred estimated the earthquake, which measured 7.4 on the Richter Scale, lasted perhaps two minutes. “Of course, it seemed like an eternity.” The quake built to its most severe shock toward the end, giving people time to get outdoors, and possibly saving many lives.
It was thought at first that a few LDS chapels might have to be demolished because of earthquake damage. But reexamination showed the damage was not that severe. It appears now that there will be “five or six major repair jobs, and then some other cosmetic things,” Brother Allred said. For example, suspended ceilings fell in some chapels and will need to be replaced. But some of the original materials can be salvaged and reused.
He pointed out that there are nearly two hundred Church buildings in the affected area. Metropolitan Santiago alone, with a population of approximately four million, has seventeen stakes.
That is one reason members’ needs were met so well, he explained. It has been “relatively simple” to provide help for the Saints because “the organization is so close to the people.”